Nothing could be finer
UNC knocks off Illinois in ACC/Big Ten Challenge
Posted: Tuesday December 2, 2003 11:43PM; Updated: Wednesday December 3, 2003 12:27AM
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- There were ice bags scattered all over the North Carolina locker room and players had a tough time getting their uniforms off.
But boy, the pain felt so good for the 10th-ranked Tar Heels on Tuesday night after an 88-81 victory over No. 11 Illinois in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
North Carolina remained undefeated with the victory, outlasting one of the nation's deepest teams behind Sean May's 23 points and 14 rebounds -- both career highs.
"Right now is one of those high moments in coaching that you really enjoy," Roy Williams said. "If we play like this we've got a chance."
May, sidelined most of last season by a broken foot, was nearly unstoppable at times in the paint as Williams used just seven players -- two who were questionable with injuries -- to improve to 4-0.
"I grew up watching the Big Ten and it's always been the most physical conference in the country," May said. "We knew we had to match their physical play."
May got plenty of help from Rashad McCants, who added 20 points, and Jawad Williams. The junior played with a hip pointer and had 18 points and 12 rebounds as all five North Carolina starters logged at least 31 minutes.
"When you're excited like that, playing in a big game, fatigue doesn't really play a part," Jawad Williams said.
Meanwhile, Raymond Felton shut down Illinois scoring leader Dee Brown, who missed his first six shots and didn't score until there was 17:36 left.
Brown had a chance to tie the score twice late with 3-pointers, but missed and finished 3-for-17 from the field for just eight points.
"It was just one of those nights," said Brown. "Everything felt good, but they just didn't go down."
Deron Williams led Illinois (3-1) with 22 points, while Roger Powell added 20.
North Carolina led 79-78 before Jawad Williams sank a follow shot and McCants hit a free throw. He missed his second from the line with 46.7 seconds left, but got the rebound and the Tar Heels closed out Illinois from the foul line.
"I kept pleading with our guys that they had gas left in the tank," Roy Williams said. "I told them they didn't have to give in."
The Tar Heels hit five of their first seven shots to open the second half to build the lead to nine.
But Powell brought the Fighting Illini back with a shot in the lane and a hook to start a spurt that saw Illinois score 13 points in 31/2 minutes to retake the lead at 55-54 with 13:43 remaining.
It remained close until Powell picked up his fourth foul with 6:19 left and the score tied at 69.
With Powell on the bench, the Tar Heels hit four foul shots, got a follow from Jackie Manuel and a layup by McCants to go up by eight before a late charge by Illinois came up short.
Illinois came in averaging 15 turnovers, but coughed it up 14 times in the first half as North Carolina's defense picked up a notch following a close call over the weekend at Cleveland State.
Neither team led by more than four points until Illinois got sloppy again in the final minute of the period.
Jawad Williams sank a 3-pointer with 34.8 seconds left before an inbounds pass by Deron Williams was thrown away and ended up in the hands of McCants. He wasted no time drilling another shot behind the arc to get the partisan crowd into in, giving the Tar Heels a six-point lead at the break.
Illinois had trouble from the outside against North Carolina's tough defense, going 0-for-7 in the first half from 3-point range and 6 of 24 for the game.
"They're a fast, athletic team and that gave us some problems," Brown said.
The Fighting Illini also had difficulty at the line, missing 11 of 18.