BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Ticker) -- Missouri could have shot 3-pointers until the lights went out, but in the darkness it would still be searching for an answer to Brendan Haywood.
Haywood dominated both ends of the floor, collecting a career-high 28 points and 15 rebounds, as eighth-seeded North Carolina overpowed No. 9 Missouri, 84-70, in a South Region first-round contest.
"This was certainly a great win," North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge said. "It was our best game of the year. I'm happy for the team. They have hung in there all year and they did a good job tonight." Putting behind them a disappointing regular season and last year's first-round NCAA Tournament elimination, the Tar Heels (19-13) controlled the paint and watched as Missouri cooled off after a hot start and finished 8-of-31 from beyond the arc.
"Our zone (defense) was effective," Guthridge added. "We also mixed up the man with zone. I heard Digger Phelps say on ESPN that if we went to zone, Missouri would knock down 3s all night long. But you can guard the perimeter in a zone just as good (as a man defense) and I think we did that." North Carolina will face top-seeded Stanford in the second round on Sunday.
"Right now I just want to enjoy the win," Tar Heels point guard Ed Cota said. "Tomorrow we'll prepare for Stanford. Stanford is a good opponent. They have the No. 1 seed and they are the best team in the country right now." The Tigers (18-13), who suffered a first-round loss for the second straight season, have not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1995, when they were beaten by UCLA's Tyus Edney at the buzzer in the second round.
"We ran into a really good team tonight that exploited their strengths against us," Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. "We knew coming in that we would have to make shots and be very hot to beat them. I think we controlled some points of the game. Sometimes making shots is something you can't control." Missouri scored the final seven points of the first half to fight within 44-41 at the break, but Haywood opened the scoring after intermission with a basket in the lane and a jump hook that pushed North Carolina's lead to seven points.
Haywood used his 7-foot, 264-pound frame to score over the smaller Tigers. The nation's field goal percentage leader (.721) was 11-of-15 from the field and 6-of-9 at the foul line. He also blocked a shot while altering several others.
"We were able to get the ball to Brendan Haywood tonight," Guthridge said. "We've been working on different ways to get him the ball. We did that tonight and it obviously paid off." Although they never made a serious run at the lead, the Tigers trailed only 54-49 following a driving layup by Kareem Rush with 15:18 left. Again, the Tar Heels turned to their junior center.
"It wasn't like I had to make amends from last year," Haywood said. "I just knew that I didn't want to go out in the first round. A lot of my success is due to my teammates. We also just wanted to give a good effort. We had no intention of going down tonight." Following a short jumper by Joseph Forte, Haywood made the second of two free throws and moments later threw down an alley-oop dunk off a beautiful feed from Cota, North Carolina's all-time assist leader.
In fact, Cota's assist on Haywood's dunk was the 1,000th of his career and he finished the game with 1,003. He ranks third all-time on the NCAA's career list behind fellow Atlantic Coast Conference starts Bobby Hurley of Duke and North Carolina State's Chris Corchiani.
"I have never looked for individual goals," Cota said. "My main goal is to win a national championship." "(Cota) does a great job of gettng the ball to their inside players," Missouri's Keyon Dooling said. "He runs that ballclub." A free throw by Kris Lang, who supported Haywood in the lane with 11 points and seven rebounds, and Max Owens' 3-pointer provided the Tar Heels with a 63-49 advantage with 10:48 remaining.
Jason Capel had 14 points and 11 rebounds and Forte added 13 and eight for North Carolina, which committed 15 turnovers but shot 46 percent (32-of-71) and held a commanding 55-30 advantage on the boards.
Clarence Gilbert scored 16 points for Missouri while going 4-of-15 from 3-point range. He was at his best early, drilling three 3-pointers in the opening 8:55, the third capping an 11-0 run and giving Missouri a 20-19 lead.
"I'm very rpoud of our team," said Snyder. "We played with a lot of heart and great intensity. Our guys deserve a lot of credit. I'm unbelievably proud of our guys and what they have been able to do this year." Gilbert made two 3-pointers in the first 63 seconds as the Tigers jumped to a 6-2 lead. But Haywood scored seven points during a 13-0 burst and his follow dunk gave the Tar Heels a 15-6 advantage with just over 14 minutes to play before halftime.
The Tigers were 6-of-14 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes but were unable to find their stroke in the second half as North Carolina pulled away.
"That's the way it is sometimes. Somedays it goes in and others it doesn't," said Dooling.
The Tar Heels scored 56 points in the paint compared to 32 by Missouri and held a 17-8 advantage at the foul line.