MINNEAPOLIS — Bryce Brown stood hunched over, hands on his knees, Auburn jersey pulled up over his face.
Seconds earlier, it looked like the senior guard would be the hero. The player that sent the Tigers, playing in the Final Four for the first time in program history, to Monday's national championship game. His late flurry of 3-pointers helped the Tigers go from down 10 to up two with 1.5 seconds remaining.
But the Cinderella story Auburn has spent the last three-plus weeks trying to write will not have a storybook ending. In those 15 seconds, Virginia turned a two-point deficit into a 63-62 victory that was achieved with no shortage of drama or controversy.
Ty Jerome got away with what appeared to be a double dribble. Samir Doughty got called for a foul that very easily could have been a play on. Kyle Guy won the game for the Cavaliers with three clutch free throws. Brown's desperation, over-the-shoulder bid at a last-second shot came up short.
"It just kind of hurt," Brown said. "We did a lot of things to win this game and put ourselves in a position to win it. It just came down to that last thing, the last call, and it was a tough call.
"I just don't feel like it should have been decided like that."
In the instant before that call against Doughty was made, Auburn's bench — and the fans seated behind it — celebrated. Guy's attempt at a game-winning 3-pointer from the left corner of the raised court inside U.S. Bank Stadium bounced harmlessly off the rim. The buzzer sounded.
A 12-game winning streak that included an SEC Tournament championship and victories over the three winningest programs in college basketball (Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky) was going to continue into Monday's national championship.
But they hadn't heard the whistle on the other side of the court. The players on the court did. Each one of them — Brown, Doughty, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and Austin Wiley — walked back toward the rest of their teammates with arms over their head or extended out wide in disbelief.
Doughty had been called for a foul for not allowing Guy to land on his 3-point attempt.
"I just tried to be right there and allow him to shoot the ball, and whatever happens, happens. He had just hit a 3 on the play before, and I played defense the same exact way," Doughty said.
"They hadn't been calling those fouls all game. There were actually plays where there were fouls on 3-point shots, and they weren't even called. So for them to call that play, call that foul that last play, it was kind of surprising."
Guy, an 81.8-percent free-throw shooter, sunk all three, the ball barely touching the rim on each one. A year after being the first No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament history to lose to a 16-seed, the Cavaliers are headed to Monday's national championship game, where they will face either Michigan State or Texas Tech.
"I heard him call it right away," Guy said. "They were asking me, did I know, because I put my hand — my face into my jersey, but that was me focusing. I knew they called a foul. I knew that I got behind the line for three shots because I practiced that. I just literally told myself that we dream of these moments, and to be able to make one happen was special."
This will still go down as the greatest season in Auburn men's basketball history despite the result. The program won more games (30) than it ever has before. It won an SEC Tournament championship for the first time since 1985 and made a Final Four for the first time ever.
But on Saturday, that season ended in heartbreak.
"I want to congratulate Virginia on a great victory and advancing to the championship game," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "We knew we were playing against a great team with a great defensive scheme, made it very difficult for us, but we've got incredible character and heart and belief. These guys have overcome adversity all year long. They've been doubted all year long.
"We're just disappointed that we're not going to get a chance to work tonight and tomorrow and have a chance to play for a championship."