CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It won't leave as the tournament's biggest Cinderella story to come out of the opening weekend in Charlotte, but Texas A&M bagged the biggest trophy, and did so in unflinchingly dominant fashion.
Texas A&M dominated North Carolina, winning in the paint and from beyond the arc, and with a forceful 86-65 win ensured this year's tournament would end with a new national champion.
Like UMBC did in its epic surprise win over Virginia on Friday, the Aggies didn't just serve to upset the favored Tar Heels. They completely overwhelmed Carolina. Texas A&M shot 52 percent from the field, drained 10 3s, had four players score in double figures, and held Carolina to just 33 percent shooting for the game.
"That's what we do, force teams to take tough shots," Texas A&M guard Admon Gilder said. "North Carolina, they're a great team, but ..."
He didn't need to finish the thought.
The arena was bathed in Carolina blue, a virtual home game for the Heels, but the crowd was an afterthought for most of the evening, as A&M powered through a 29-8 run to end the first half and never looked back.
"We missed shots we'd made all season," UNC forward Luke Maye said. "But bottom line, the best team won."
This wasn't as unlikely as UMBC's miracle Friday, but it was every bit as dominant.
"We know we have the advantage on the inside with most teams," Davis said. "We do what we do every day -- go to the war on the inside and eat glass."
On the other side, there was nothing beyond exasperation.
After a quick start, North Carolina's shooters went ice cold -- not for a lack of open shots, but just an unrelenting inability to drain them.
The Tar Heels missed 17 of their first 18 3-point attempts, went a stretch from midway through the first half through the midpoint of the second shooting less than 20 percent from the field, and appeared increasingly frustrated with each subsequent miss.
"We started settling for outside shots, and they weren't going in," guard Joel Berry II said. "We stopped being aggressive."
On Thursday, before the Madness had truly begun, Berry sat at a news conferemce and dissected this season's journey. He'd led North Carolina to the title game two years ago, then he helped to exact revenge with a national championship last season. This season though?
"This was kind of a rebuilding year," he said.
The mood changed as the season progressed, Berry said, and Carolina seemed to find that same magic again by season's end, culminating with an emphatic win over rival Duke in the ACC tournament.
"For some reason we always end up clicking and that's when you want to be playing your best basketball," he said.
But as A&M pushed its lead to 20 in the second half, all those November concerns had resurfaced, and a third straight trip to the title game looked ever more unlikely.
Maye found himself in early foul trouble, and that's when the A&M run began.
The outside shooters couldn't hit anything, and Carolina simply didn't have a plan B.
The Aggies played with more anger and intensity and energy, and Carolina looked dazed. The Heels were supposed to be the savvy veterans, but they simply weren't ready for this.
With 5:42 left and the outcome all but assured, Williams hauled in a pass under the basket and delivered a whirling windmill dunk that served as the perfect knockout blow. Williams grinned as he jogged back down the court, while the frustration among the Tar Heels reached its crescendo.
By the end, Berry and Theo Pinson -- both key cogs in the previous runs to the final -- were on the bench, spectators for the final moments of their careers. Berry craned his neck to watch A&M's walk-ons run out the clock, and Pinson sat dejected, a finish he couldn't have envisioned.
"I didn't picture it ending like this," coach Roy Williams said afterward. "I pictured it with these guys having smiles on their face."