SYRACUSE, New York (Ticker) -- Twenty years ago, Villanova beat North Carolina en route to its only national championship. This time, the Tar Heels would not let the Wildcats' season end on a magical note.
Rashad McCants scored 17 points and Marvin Williams added 16 as top-seeded North Carolina needed every second to overcame a scrappy fifth-seeded Villanova team for a 67-66 victory in the semifinals of the Syracuse Region.
The lone Atlantic Coast Conference team left in the tournament after both Duke and North Carolina State lost earlier Friday, the Tar Heels (30-4) will face sixth-seeded Wisconsin for a trip to St. Louis on Sunday.
Back in 1985, North Carolina was a second seed before it was upset by No. 8 Villanova in the Southeast regional final en route to the Wildcats' nearly perfect victory over Georgetown in the national championship game.
Despite shooting nearly 50 percent and having runs of 13-3 and 11-0 in the second half to overcome a 33-29 halftime deficit, the Tar Heels were clinging to a 66-62 lead when Randy Foye was fouled on a jumper with 17 seconds remaining. After making the first free throw, Foye missed the second but the Wildcats grabbed the rebound and called timeout.
Off an inbounds pass with 11 seconds remaining, Allan Ray got the ball on the left wing and drove to the lane. It appeared that he was fouled on a made basket, but it was waved off because Ray was called for traveling.
"I popped out to the perimeter, and (Melvin Scott) kind of overplayed me and I drove to the basket," said Ray about the questionable play. "I thought the ref called the foul but he called a walk."
Villanova (24-8) then fouled McCants with seven seconds left and he split two free throws for a 67-63 advantage. Despite the four-point deficit, the Wildcats continued to keep the Tar Heels on edge after Kyle Lowry nailed a running 3-pointer with three seconds left.
Going into its fullcourt press, Ray tipped an inbounds pass out of bounds with 1.8 seconds left, but North Carolina's Sean May heaved the next pass three-quarters of the court before Lowry launched a last-ditch shot for Villanova.
With the pulse-raising win, the Tar Heels moved within one victory of their 16th Final Four appearance and first in five seasons despite the foul trouble of floor leader Raymond Felton, who fouled out with 2:13 left and sat helplessly as his teammates struggled with the Wildcats' pressure. Despite shooting 4-of-12, he finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists with six turnovers.
"I was really happy with the way we played without Raymond - there was no question we need Raymond in the game," said North Carolina coach Roy Williams, whose team finished with 17 turnovers that Villanova converted into 30 points. "Melvin stepped up and made some nice plays, we made a bunch of free throws at that point and at the end it got awful hairy. But again, we ended up winning and we are very fortunate."
McCants, who made 9-of-10 free throws, scored 15 of his points in the second half. Three minutes after Marvin Williams gave the Tar Heels their first lead of the game at 44-42 with 11:49 to play, McCants scored nine straight points, making six straight free throws and hitting a 3-pointer, to extend the advantage to 57-50 with 5:30 left.
May had 14 points and 10 rebounds and for the Tar Heels, who shot 94 percent (15-of-16) from the stripe in the second half to advance.
That did not appear to be the case in the first half, when Villanova went to a smaller lineup in the absence of injured forward Curtis Sumpter and disrupted North Carolina with its quicker and more aggressive starting five.
Foye scored 11 of the game's first 18 points with three 3-pointers, and Lowry, a freshman in just his third start, scored three straight baskets to give the Wildcats a 21-9 with 11:58 to play in the half.
"They went small because of losing Sumpter and they were really a challenge for us," Roy Williams said. "They were quick to the ball and more aggressive than us. I told (Villanova coach) Jay (Wright) that he did a better coaching job than I did."
Foye scored 28 points and Lowry added 18 for Villanova, which shot 38 percent (11-of-29) after halftime, including 3-of-12 from the arc.