- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

ST. LOUIS — North Carolina tried to make it look pretty with long-distance shooting last night. That didn’t work quickly enough, so the Tar Heels simply muscled their way into the NCAA tournament final.

North Carolina beat Michigan State 87-71 at Edward Jones Dome by overcoming a five-point halftime deficit with high-percentage baskets underneath to pull away following a 12-0 run with 12 minutes remaining.

“I don’t think the kids were overconfident,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I think Michigan State hit them right in the mouth, and we didn’t know how to react. They were the aggressors, and we were not. You can’t win at this level if you’re on your heels.

“It was un-North Carolina-like. The things that have impressed me the most down the [season’s] stretch was our toughness, and it was important today.”

North Carolina (32-4) will meet Illinois (37-1) tomorrow in a matchup of No. 1 seeds for the NCAA tournament title after Illinois defeated Louisville 72-57 in the earlier semifinal. Michigan State (26-7) failed to become only the third fifth seed to advance to the final.

The Tar Heels resembled the Harlem Globetrotters midway through the second half. With a double-digit lead providing a comfortable margin, North Carolina often passed several times looking for easy shots underneath.

Scott May outmuscled Michigan State center Paul Davis for 22 points and seven rebounds while forward Jawad Williams added 20 points and eight rebounds. Guards Rashad McCants’ 17 points and Raymond Felton’s 16 prevented Michigan State’s defense from collapsing in the middle.

“[Rebounding] was the difference in the game,” May said of the Tar Heels 51-42 edge. “In the first half, they kicked our tails and did whatever they wanted to. [Coach Williams] said, ‘You guys have a chance if you just compete.’”

Guard Maurice Ager’s 24 points led Michigan State, but the Spartans’ offense practically vanished in the second half once North Carolina began dominating inside. Michigan State managed just three field goals over eight minutes after tying the game 49-49.

“In the second half, we just fell apart a little bit,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We didn’t defend as well.”

Michigan State combined strong rebounding and a flurry of 3-pointers to lead 38-33 at halftime despite making only 37.5 percent of its field goals.

The Spartans scored nine straight points for a 29-25 edge. Guard Shannon Brown added a pair of 3-pointers for a 35-27 lead before North Carolina countered by going inside for three scores after its backcourt had converted just three of its first 12 3-point attempts.

Michigan State was 22-1 this season when leading at halftime, but North Carolina quickly outplayed the Spartans after the break. The Tar Heels scored their first eight points underneath for a 41-40 lead. North Carolina then kept Michigan State off-balance with Felton’s two 3-pointers sandwiching Williams’ layup for a 49-46 edge.

North Carolina soon scored 12 straight using only one 3-pointer for a 61-49 lead. Michigan State was completely shut off inside offensively and couldn’t do much with the Tar Heels on either end. The Spartans finally managed a 3-pointer only to see the Tar Heels add another six points for a 67-52 lead with 10:17 remaining.

Michigan State eventually trailed 75-58 before Ager’s outside shooting led a belated comeback bid. The Spartans drew within 77-66 with 3:38 left, but May and forward Marvin Williams followed with dunks to end any drama.

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