- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2005

ST. LOUIS — Sean May has his own highlight reel for the family archives.

The North Carolina center, who lugged around a videotape of his father’s 1976 championship game at Indiana in his backpack throughout the Final Four, created his own legacy last night. His Tar Heels outlasted Illinois 75-70 to win the NCAA championship before 47,262 at Edward Jones Dome, with May leading the way with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

“This celebration is a lot better than that ‘76 celebration,” May said. “It’s my celebration and my team. I finally got to go through with my team what my dad got to go through. My dad talked about it for many years, and I never really understood what it was like.”

Point guard Raymond Felton clinched North Carolina’s fourth national title — and first for coach Roy Williams — with three late free throws. It was the first title game between the nation’s top-ranked teams since 1975.

North Carolina (33-4) used its depth to oust top-ranked Illinois (37-2). The team-oriented Illini got erratic outside scoring from their acclaimed three-guard lineup, while the Tar Heels’ roster of future pros kept Illinois’ defense off-balance.

Still, the game lived up to its billing. North Carolina twice blew got the lead into double digits, but Illinois rediscovered its 3-point shooting in the second half and tied the game at 70-70. However, North Carolina forward Marvin Williams tipped in a miss by Felton, who then hit three of four free throws for the victory.

“I am going to cry,” Felton said. “I just can’t believe it. North Carolina has got her championship.”

Illinois’ aggressive defense disrupted Louisville in Saturday’s semifinal but rarely solved North Carolina’s top-ranked offense, which scored underneath and outside. North Carolina went inside when necessary, but its guards converted enough 3-pointers to prevent Illinois from sagging or going with a taller lineup.

Luther Head scored 21 and Deron Williams 17 as they led a furious second-half comeback for Illinois. But North Carolina’s balance proved too much, as Felton added 17 to keep defenders from concentrating on May.

The Tar Heels relied on their frontcourt advantage, working inside to May for consecutive scores plus a Marvin Williams dunk for a 20-17 edge. Illinois countered by inserting forward Warren Carter for Head to give it more height. The experiment lasted just two minutes before Illinois returned to Head when its offense stalled.

“We played to exhaustion,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “It’s tough to stop May and when they shoot well they’re hard to beat.”

The game then slipped into the expected pattern of North Carolina’s frontcourt vs. Illinois’ outside shooting. However, Tar Heels pumped in a pair of 3-pointers to take a 33-25 lead.

The Tar Heels’ confidence was growing. North Carolina returned from a timeout with a quick layup before Illinois threw away the ball. Weber called a timeout, sensing Illinois needed regrouping. Aside from its 15-point comeback against Arizona in the Chicago Regional final, Illinois hadn’t trailed by more than nine this season.

The timeout didn’t help.

North Carolina stretched its lead to 40-27 by halftime. The Illini even blew their last possession by letting the 35-second shot clock expire. Illinois converted only 27 percent of its shots with its lowest first-half scoring of the season despite outrebounding North Carolina 22-19.

A rout looked imminent when North Carolina led 49-35 with 17:19 remaining. However, Illinois countered with 10 straight points to close to 52-50 nearly five minutes later.

North Carolina returned to its high-percentage plays with May scoring 10 points for a 65-55 lead with 8:51 left. However, Illinois’s 10-0 run tied the game with 5:34 remaining. The two would tie again at 70 before North Carolina escaped the late challenge.

Associated Press

Rashad McCants scored 14 points as North Carolina won its fourth national title.

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