You can blame it on RJ Davis’ wayward shooting touch if you like.

And many have.

So much so that Cormac Ryan forcefully and passionately came to his teammates’ defense in a somber postgame press conference by declaring that “for anybody to come and say anything negative about RJ is unacceptable.”

You can blame it on the ill-advised 3-pointer attempted and missed by Jae’Lyn Withers, a 20% shooter from beyond the arc, with his team clinging to a 1-point lead with 1:01 remaining.

And you can blame it on Hubert Davis’ decision to play seldom-used Paxson Wojcik for as many minutes in the 2nd half (9) as Elliot Cadeau and Seth Trimble combined.

Or all of the above.

They were all factors that led directly to North Carolina’s season-ending 89-87 loss to Alabama in the NCAA West Region semifinal on Thursday night in Los Angeles. But none was the primary cause of the Tar Heels’ redemption tour flaming out 3 games earlier than anticipated.

To find that, you have to look all the way back to Jan. 30 and a loss at Georgia Tech in which Armando Bacot chided his team for losing its “killer instinct.”

The Tar Heels bolted out to an 11-point lead late in the opening half of that game before taking their foot off the accelerator and allowing a bad Yellow Jackets team to get back into contention, then surge ahead and win.

An even more graphic example took place a few weeks later when UNC surged to a 12-point lead with 7 1/2 minutes remaining against a crippled Miami team in Chapel Hill. Again the Tar Heels couldn’t put the hammer down, allowing the Hurricanes to get within a single basket with just over a minute remaining.

They got away with a victory that day.

But with their season on the line, against an opponent with a much more explosive offense, they weren’t as lucky.

Bacot said afterward that this UNC team is better than the one he helped take to the Final Four 2 seasons ago. And he’s right. But that’s both the beauty and the heartbreak of the NCAA Tournament.

While talent never hurts, it’s usually the more desperate team that wins at this time of year.

Thursday night, that team was Alabama.

UNC kept the Crimson Tide at arm’s length for most of the 2nd half. But while they were able to maintain a lead of between 5 to 7 points, the Heels let Alabama hang around by missing opportunity after opportunity to gain some separation. That included a missed Bacot dunk, by the way.

That left the door open for Grant Nelson to become an instant NCAA Tournament legend, breaking the Tar Heels’ hearts in the process, by making winning plays on both ends of the court. Including a block on RJ Davis around the rim on UNC’s final full possession.

“Always in the closing minutes, it comes down to a play here or there,” coach Hubert Davis said afterward. “I’ve talked all season about the little details that make big things happen, not just necessarily shots, (but) rebounds, free throws, loose balls.”

There were plenty of missed shots, especially by RJ Davis, who suffered through an 0-for-9 performance from beyond the 3-point arc immediately after his former backcourt mate and rival Caleb Love posted the same unsightly line in Arizona’s loss to Clemson.

But in the end, it was those little things – a mismatched lineup, an ill-advised shot at just the wrong time, an inability to get stops when they were needed most and that pesky lack of a killer instinct – that combined to end UNC’s season 3 games earlier than it expected.