NEW YORK (Ticker) -- No. 23 North Carolina returns to Madison Square Garden on Friday night when it faces Iona in the first round of the Holiday Festival.
North Carolina (7-2) is returning to the site where it captured the Preseason NIT in November with victories over Kansas and Stanford. The victories improved the Tar Heels' record to 5-0 at the time and catapulted them into the national rankings.
Jawad Williams scored 16 points as North Carolina opened play in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 69-48 victory at Florida State on Sunday. The Tar Heels pulled away in the second half by shooting 46 percent and outscoring the Seminoles, 39-18.
The Tar Heels' vaunted trio of freshmen struggled as Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton and Sean May combined to make 9-of-39 shots. McCants scored 12 points and Felton handed out 11 assists.
McCants averaged over 22 points per game in capturing the MVP honors of the Preseason NIT. He has been the best of coach Matt Doherty's stellar recruiting class. Doherty is a Long Island native.
Iona (4-4) has lost three straight, including a 71-68 defeat to Rhode Island on Monday. Steve Smith collected 19 points and a season-high 13 rebounds to lead the Gaels.
Smith is averaging over 20 points per game in his last four contests. Junior forward Greg Jenkins is averaging 13.4 points per game.
Iona, which is coached by former NBA player Jeff Ruland, is 26-43 all time at Madison Square Garden. The Gaels suffered a 69-58 loss to Manhattan in the title game of this event last season.
North Carolina is 2-0 against Iona, including a 110-67 rout in the last meeting on November 26, 1985.
The winner will meet St. John's or Manhattan in Saturday's championship.