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Updated: Friday, December 27, 2002 10:37 PM EST
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Iona 65, (23) North Carolina 56
North Carolina Tar Heels
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NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Iona coach Jeff Ruland had plenty to reminisce about.

Courtney Fields scored 18 points and freshman Ricky Soliver added 13 as Iona posted a 65-56 upset of No. 23 North Carolina in the first round of the Holiday Festival.

"We beat a storied program," Ruland said. "Other than the birth of my three daughters, this is the best night of my life."

Ruland told the team in his pregame speech about how he led Iona to upsets of Louisville and Kansas at Madison Square Garden during the 1979-80 season. The message was not lost on the Gaels.

"Eight (jerks) from Long Island believed, and they beat Louisville and Kansas in this building because they believed," Ruland said.

"I know when he talked about it, I knew it was possible," Soliver said. "They were like us, they had freshmen out there."

North Carolina (7-3) had the best moments of its young season at the Garden with victories over Kansas and Stanford to capture the Preseason NIT. But the Tar Heels committed 22 turnovers and turned in a dismal all-around effort in this one.

"We can't have 22 turnovers and shoot 32 percent from the field and expect to beat Iona," North Carolina coach Matt Doherty said. "When you're wearing a North Carolina jersey as a ranked team, you take everybody's best shot."

Iona (5-3) used a 15-1 run early in the second half to take control behind seven points from Soliver. Maceo Wofford's basket capped it and gave the Gaels a 42-34 advantage with 13:34 remaining.

The Tar Heels lost starting center Sean May to a foot injury in that run and May did not return. They already were shorthanded with starting forward Jawad Williams out with a stomach virus and backup guard Melvin Scott serving a one-game team suspension.

"Everybody has a bad game. It was probably a nightmare game for us," Tar Heels freshman guard Rashad McCants said. "There's no excuse. We just got beat."

With May out, Iona exploited Carolina's weakened inside game for easy baskets in the second half. Wofford and Marvin McCullogh had three-point plays during a 12-5 spurt that gave the Gaels their largest advantage at 56-46 with just under six minutes left.

Iona shook off first-half jitters that resulted in 31 percent (9-of-29) shooting. The Gaels found their stride in the second half and clicked at 58 percent (15-of-26).

"Everybody was doubting us in the beginning," Soliver said. "We knew if we played hard, we'd be OK."

McCants scored 12 of his 15 points in the first half and Raymond Felton finished with 11. The two heralded freshmen combined to make only 8-of-24 shots and committed nine turnovers.

Iona is in the title game for the second straight year and faces the winner of the game between St. John's and Manhattan. The Tar Heels play in the consolation game.

"If we don't shake this loss off, learn from it and get our minds right, we'll come out of here 0-2," Doherty said. "This is the biggest challenge that faces us right now."

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