- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

North Carolina is determined not to let one bad break define its season.
It's been almost a month since UNC's Sean May felt a "pop" in his left foot early in the second half of a game against seemingly innocuous Iona.
"What's crazy is how quickly it can happen," said May, the son of Indiana All-American Scott May and the inside element of one of the most talented recruiting classes since the Fab Five arrived at Ann Arbor. "One moment, you're rolling along and living out this dream, and the next you can't even walk. It's indescribably deflating."
One moment, you're sharing ink and accolades with fellow freshmen Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton as a member of the trio capable of returning the Tar Heels to greatness after last season's 8-20 abomination, and the next you're wearing a cast and crutches.
One moment, you're the 6-foot-8, 272-pound interior enforcer on a team that dominated No.2 Kansas, and the next you're a cheerleader for 8-to-10 weeks on a smallish squad capable of losing to the forgettable Gaels.
One moment, you're ranked 12th in the nation with a 7-2 mark, and the next you're trying to contend in the merciless ACC without a legitimate post presence.
"It's been tough," said May, who had a screw inserted into his foot Dec.30 and hopes to bring back his 12 points, nine rebounds and two blocks for the Tar Heels' run through March.
In the meantime, North Carolina (11-5, 2-1 ACC) has survived life without May. But tonight's game at the Dean Dome against defending national champion Maryland (10-4, 3-1) could prove pivotal to both the Heels' league hopes and their youthful psyches.
"The Maryland game is huge for us because you have to hold serve at home if you hope to contend for the conference title," McCants said Saturday after the Tar Heels upset No.6 Connecticut 68-65 in Chapel Hill. "Since Sean got hurt, everybody has tried to pick on us inside. I'm sure Maryland will be no different, so we'll all just have to keep picking up the slack down there, helping on defense and crashing the boards."
McCants certainly has done his part since May left the lineup. The 6-4 slasher from Asheville leads the ACC in scoring (19.0 points) and shoots better than 53 percent from the floor and nearly 46 percent from 3-point range. McCants ripped UConn for 27 points Saturday. And with May sidelined, the baseline terror has developed into North Carolina's second-leading rebounder (5.3).
Felton (10.5 points, 6.8 assists), rated the nation's top incoming freshman by several recruiting services, has picked up his scoring from the point since May's departure and trails only Duke's Chris Duhon and Maryland's Steve Blake in the conference's assist category.
And 6-8 sophomore Jawad Williams (13.7 points, 6.0 rebounds), a swingman masquerading as a power forward thanks to coach Matt Doherty's desperate frontcourt situation, has done his best to give North Carolina an impact player inside.
But at 208 pounds, Williams is little more than a spindly snack for serious ACC pivots like Virginia's Travis Watson (6-8, 255) or Maryland's Ryan Randle (6-9, 245). And don't look for answers on Carolina's bench. The only Tar Heels thicker than Williams who average more than 10 minutes of playing time are freshmen David Noel (1.7 rebounds) and Byron Sanders.
Sanders, who almost looks the part at 6-9, 225 pounds, plays much smaller. In 35 minutes against UConn, Sanders collected zero rebounds. Heck, May had that many without putting on a uniform. So how did the Tar Heels beat UConn, a team that features potential All-American center Emeka Okafor?
Just ask Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun:
"We slept through the first 10 minutes of the game, [falling behind 23-4]. [Shooting guard Ben] Gordon couldn't throw it in the ocean. And the officials made two joke calls on Emeka that kept him on the bench."
That rather unique formula isn't likely to work on the Terps, who feature one of the nation's most experienced backcourts in Blake (11.2 points, 7.1 assists) and Drew Nicholas (18.3 points) and the kind of sizeable, deep frontcourt that gives Doherty night sweats.
"What did Randle do to Duke, 15 points and 17 boards?" Doherty said, chuckling. "He's probably licking his chops, but our guys have found ways to compete."
There's a big difference between competing with the league's elite teams and actually contending for the ACC title. Fact is, UNC's two conference victories have come against league lightweights Florida State and Clemson. Fact is, North Carolina had a rebounding margin of 1.1 with May but is minus-4.0 without him. Fact is, it's likely to take a succession of near-miracles to get the Tar Heels to March in NCAA tournament-worthy fashion without their man in the middle.
"I think we'll find a way. And I think in the long run, this will make us a better team," May said. "Tough times don't last; tough people do."


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