GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Ticker) -- North Carolina rode superior foul shooting to its first win in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Sean May collected a career-high 23 points and 14 rebounds as the 10th-ranked Tar Heels posted an 88-81 victory over No. 11 Illinois at the Greensboro Coliseum.
North Carolina (4-0) was winless in four previous Challenges, losing by double digits each time. Included in that streak was a 92-65 loss to Illinois last season.
The Tar Heels avenged that defeat by shooting 73 percent (22-of-30) at the free-throw line, including 13-of-18 in the final seven minutes.
"The difference in college basketball when really good teams play is so small, the difference between winning and losing is minuscule," Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said.
Two free throws by Jawad Williams snapped a 69-69 tie with 6:19 remaining and put North Carolina ahead for good. They started an 8-0 run for the Tar Heels as Rashad McCants' jumper made it 77-69 with 4:29 to go.
Illinois (3-1) missed nine straight shots during that stretch and hurt itself with awful foul shooting. The Fighting Illini finished at 39 percent (7-of-18) and missed their final seven attempts.
Deron Williams pulled Illinois within 79-76 with just over three minutes remaining. Illini guard Dee Brown had a pair of chances to tie but misfired on 3-pointers on consecutive possessions. It was part of a miserable night for Brown, who made 3-of-17 shots and scored eight points.
"What you have to do is all the little things that you can control," Roy Williams said. "You might not be able to control Dee Brown going 3-for-17, but you can control putting a hand in his face for 17 shots."
"I don't think anyone played perfect, but at the same time they played with a lot of heart and we battled and hung in there," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "When you go on the road, you want to have a chance to win down the stretch."
Jawad Williams collected 18 points and a career-high 12 rebounds as North Carolina overwhelmed Illinois inside. May, who missed most of last season with a broken foot, made 7-of-15 shots and 9-of-10 from the line.
"I'm doing a lot of things better, running the floor better," May said. "My teammates trust me down low. They trust me that I can go longer in the game."
Jawad Williams was questionable with a hip pointer suffered in practice Sunday. The junior forward, who knocked down the go-ahead 3-pointer in Saturday's win at Cleveland State, looked like his normal self.
"I played with a lot of pain, but I felt that if I was out of this game, I was letting my teammates down," he said. "I wanted to be out there to help them get a big win."
Deron Williams led Illinois with 22 points and Roger Powell, who left with his fourth foul at the 6:19 mark, added 20. The Illini missed all seven 3-point attempts in the first half and were 6-of-24 from the arc.