Heels won it their own way

Posted: April 06, 2005

ST. LOUIS — At long last, after North Carolina had fought off Illinois, 75-70, in Monday night's national title game at the Edward Jones Dome, Roy Williams hoisted the championship trophy that had slipped from his hands during four previous trips to the Final Four, all while the coach at Kansas.

And afterward, when the self-proclaimed cornball brushed the confetti from his silver hair, he reacted predictably, teary-eyed and ready for a group hug involving everyone who ever wore Carolina blue and espoused the Carolina Way, which is buttoned-down and proper.

Williams began his postgame news conference by reiterating what his mentor, Dean Smith, told him after finally winning his first national title in 1982. "First statement I'll make is I'm really not that much better a coach than I was three hours ago," Williams said.

Then he started dropping names. Carolina names. The Dean and Michael Jordan went to the locker room to congratulate the Tar Heels, he said. George Karl and Doug Moe were there, he said. And if Matt Doherty, a Carolina guy who apparently didn't do it the Carolina Way because he got canned, was there, he'd give him a big hug, too.

"I feel for Matt Doherty. I really do," Williams said of the former Tar Heels coach who recruited all but two of the players who gave Williams the championship.

But the irony is, Williams' team didn't reach the pinnacle of college hoops doing it quite the Carolina Way.

What did Dean Smith think of the hip-hop dance the Tar Heels did on the stage during the trophy presentation?

What was the Dean thinking the last four minutes of the game that concluded the memorable tourney, when the Illini had made their comeback from 15 points down and the Tar Heels inexplicably refused to get the ball to Sean May, the 6-foot-9, 266-pound junior who owned the post?

In the last four minutes, May, who shot 10 for 11, scored 26 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and was named the outstanding player of the Final Four, didn't touch the ball when he was in position to score.

Instead, Melvin Scott launched a hurry-up jumper. Rashad McCants tried a difficult reverse layup. Marvin Williams fired up an ill-advised three-point attempt. It probably wasn't the Carolina Way to leave Illinois' Luther Head wide open for a three-pointer that would have tied the game at 73 with 16 seconds remaining before point guard Raymond Felton, who did recognize May's value, grabbed the rebound and sealed the win with two free throws.

Those were the kinds of lapses with and without the ball that made this immensely talented team so confounding at times, prompting Jordan to say to the Tar Heels, "You guys almost gave me a heart attack." But in the end they didn't matter.

Neither is it the Carolina Way for a Tar Heel to be as defiant as McCants when he said in response to perceived criticism, "We don't care what people say because we are the champions, so they can kiss our butts."

So the Tar Heels didn't do it the Carolina Way. Instead, they did it mostly because a big man ruled in an era when guards rule the college game.

May made all six of his shots in the second half. He singlehandedly held off an 18-3 run that brought the Illini within 52-50 by scoring five straight points. Moments later, he lengthened a 60-55 lead to 65-55 with five more consecutive points after he set up Jawad Williams' three-point basket with a precise diagonal pass out of a double team.

For inspiration, May brought along a tape of the 1976 championship in which his father, Scott May, scored 26 points to lead Indiana to the title, completing an undefeated season.

Ratings up. CBS said its overnight ratings for the final were up 43 percent over last year and the best since 1999. The game scored a 16.0 rating, according to Nielsen. Each point represents about a million households. Overall, the NCAA tournament had its highest average rating since 1994.

Staff writer Don Steinberg contributed to this article.

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.

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