With 22 seconds left Thursday night and North Carolina trailing by four, junior Will Graves lofted a long-distance jumper that wove around, then wiggled out, of the rim.
"It would have been fun if Will's 3-point shot had stayed in," coach Roy Williams said after Virginia Tech won 74-70. "But when things are going tough they usually do spin out like that."
Now if UNC, which dropped to 2-5 and second-to-last in the ACC, doesn't find some sort of traction at Maryland on Sunday, it will be on the brink of an even bigger spinout - a slide out of the NCAA Tournament bracket for the first time since 2003.
Since the ACC schedule expanded to 16 games in 1992, only seven teams with a losing record in regular-season league play earned an at-large NCAA berth. And only one - Florida State, coached by now-UNC assistant Steve Robinson in 1998 - was 6-10. As of Sunday, collegerpi.com rated the Tar Heels 76th on its RPI scale, meaning at least five more victories, plus a win or two in the ACC Tournament at least, are a must.
Although it's looking more and more like an uphill battle, the Tar Heels competed better in some phases at Virginia Tech.
Freshman John Henson, who has played predominantly at small forward this season, also was inserted some at power forward - resulting in a career-high 14 points. Point guard Larry Drew II was more aggressive, particularly in the latter part of the first half, when UNC erased a 12-point deficit.
Although replacing Marcus Ginyard with Dexter Strickland in the starting lineup didn't necessarily help Strickland (0-for-2, 1 point, all seven rebounds in the first half), it seemed to spur Ginyard, who still committed some strange turnovers but buried a couple of shots for the first time in three games.
"We showed that we do have heart,'' Graves said. "... But we're still trying to put everything together."
And with only nine regular-season games left, including five on the road, there is work to do.
While Henson played his best game of the season, senior Deon Thompson scored only eight points before fouling out. It was another example of how UNC's forwards, which were supposed to be the strength of this team, still aren't playing aggressively enough.
While Drew was more assertive by taking the ball to the basket, he still accounted for four of UNC's 19 turnovers - far too many for a team playing much slower than the breakneck pace of past seasons.
And while Ginyard showed more hustle, and started the second half, he was still 2-for-7. Plus, his defense still hasn't returned to form since missing games because of foot and ankle injuries.
"His night was in a couple possessions," Williams said. "He goes up for a dunk, misses it, then makes a great hustle play, and steals it. And he's got David Wear in front of him, and he can't get it over the [defender's] head, and throws it away again. As I said, sometimes when things are tough, you don't get many fortunate things to happen to you, and that's what it's been for him."
It's not going to get any easier on Sunday. The Tar Heels have lost two straight at College Park, and that was with the likes of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington in the lineup. Meanwhile, Maryland (15-6, 5-2 ACC), led by ACC Player of the Year candidate Greivis Vasquez, has been on a roll, winning five of its past six games.
Last season, the Terps became one of those teams to earn an at-large NCAA Tournament berth with a 7-9 ACC regular-season record. For UNC to do the same, it must pull out a victory Sunday - or its spinout will reach NIT proportions.
"We know," Henson said. "that we have to put together a winning streak."