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Updated: Thursday, December 19, 2002 11:27 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(24) North Carolina 80, Vermont 54
VERMONT CATAMOUNTS
Vermont Catamounts
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NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
North Carolina Tar Heels
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CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Freshman Rashad McCants scored 19 points and Jawad Williams added 16 as No. 24 North Carolina returned from a 12-day break to post an 80-54 victory over shorthanded Vermont.

Jackie Manuel contributed 14 points and seven rebounds for the Tar Heels (6-2), who avoided a three-game losing streak. North Carolina moved five wins away from joining Kentucky as the second school in NCAA history to reach 1,800 victories.

Despite the long stretch between games, the Tar Heels were not able to hold full practices due to the school's final exam period and various injuries to a number of players.

"I was hard because we had exams and then we had guys hurt," North Carolina coach Matt Doherty said. "So, we did not have a full roster until the day before the game. I think we got winded a little bit because we hadn't played as much. I think some guys, since they hadn't practiced much in the last 12 days due to injury, showed some fatigue and that was another reason why I wanted to sub a little bit more."

"We had to bring the big-time energy," McCants said. "Being off so long and practicing so hard, it is just a pay-off to get out there and play."

Grant Anderson and Mike Goia scored 11 points apiece as Vermont (3-6) dropped its sixth straight. Coach Tom Brennan was happy not to be embarrassed in a complete thrashing.

"Matt Doherty learned a lot of great things from (long-time Tar Heels coach) Dean Smith," coach Tom Brennan said. "One of the apparent things he learned from him was grace. We were dead. That game could have been 100 and he subbed those five guys and kind of let us get our legs a little bit.

"Here is a guy under a world of pressure and everybody wants to know this and wants to know that and he could have buried us any way he wanted to. He was very kind. I don't mean to be demeaning to the people that he put in, but the other guys were just going so well. They were just rolling and the place was nuts and I just can't thank him enough."

The Catamounts have struggled with injuries this season. Their leading scorer from last year, T.J. Sorrentine, has been out with a wrist injury suffered in a scrimmage on November 1. Taylor Coppenrath, who is averaging 21.7 points a game, is not with the team due to pneumonia.

"No to make excuses, but we had the Player of the Year out and the Rookie of the Year out," Brennan said.

"If they had their two best players, it could have been a little different game," Doherty said.

The Tar Heels started the game with consecutive 3-pointers by Manuel and quickly jumped out to a 21-5 advantage with 13:13 left.

"I felt good from the beginning today," Manuel said. "I was just so ready to get out there and play. It was real easy to play when your shot is falling. Guys have to play the big man or the shot, they have to give up one."

"We try to (get a fast start) every game - come out and set the tone early," McCants said. "Some games we don't and some games we do, but we have to be consistent with it. Once we set the tone, just keep biting on it until the end."

After going into halftime trailing, 37-26, Vermont's Matt Sheftic opened the second half with a basket. North Carolina went on a 7-0 spurt capped by freshman Raymond Felton's dunk off a steal two minutes into the period. The Catamounts never threatened thereafter.

Felton chipped in six points and eight assists and fellow freshman Sean May had six points and six rebounds for the Tar Heels, who shot 61 percent (17-of-28) from the field in the second half to finish with a 47.5 percent (29-of-61) mark. They forced 23 turnovers and made 12 steals.

David Hehn collected 10 points and seven assists off the bench for Vermont, which shot 34 percent (20-of-59) - making just 6-of-21 shots from 3-point range.


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