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Updated: Sunday, April 3, 2005 1:44 AM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(1) North Carolina 87, (5) Michigan St 71

ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- North Carolina guaranteed a showdown in the NCAA title game by staring down Michigan State in the second half of their Final Four matchup.

Sean May and Raymond Felton led a second-half blitz by combining for 32 points as North Carolina overcame a five-point halftime deficit and rolled into the national finals with an 87-71 triumph over Michigan State.

"The first half, I didn't think it was North Carolina out there," Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. "We didn't compete the way we have all year long ... we didn't do all those little things that make a difference, especially when you're a talented team.

"I challenged them at halftime. We were down four at Villanova (in the regional semifinals), five was nothing if we came out and played."

The top seed in the Syracuse Region, the Tar Heels (32-4) ended a four-game losing streak in the national semifinals and advanced to the NCAA Tournament title game for the first time since 1993.

"The halftime message was basically go out and play hard and play better," Felton said. "Coach told us if we want to go out and win this game, we got to go out and play like we want it. He got the point across."

The victory puts Williams on the verge of his first national championship. Winless in his four previous trips to the Final Four, all with Kansas, Williams and North Carolina will face a formidable challenge on Monday as top-ranked and once-beaten Illinois awaits.

After shooting 42 percent and committing nine turnovers in the first half, North Carolina shot 57 percent (20-of-35) after the break, and outrebounded Michigan State, 27-16. The Tar Heels scored 54 points after the break and needed less than 10 minutes to match their first-half output.

"The rebounding was the difference in the game," May said. "The first half, they definitely kicked our tails. They did everything they wanted to. We didn't stop them from anything."

May scored 18 of his 22 after the break and finished with seven rebounds.

"He was more aggressive and demanding the ball and going after more rebounds (in the second half)," Michigan State center Paul Davis said. "That's the kind of player he is. He's the guy that you have to shut down for 40 minutes, not just 20."

Felton ran the attack and chipped in a pair of 3-pointers among his 14 second-half tallies and finished with eight rebounds and seven assists.

"The halftime message was basically go out and play hard and play better," Felton said. "Coach told us if we want to go out and win this game, we got to go out and play like we want it. He got the point across."

North Carolina got 22 points from Rashad McCants, and Jawad Williams kept the Tar Heels alive in the first half with 12 of his 20. Williams had scored just 18 points in the first four games of the tournament.

"(Williams) carried us in the first half, I didn't play particularly well," May said.

Michigan State's Maurice Ager scored 24 points, but most came after the game was out of reach, and Davis added 14 points and 15 rebounds. But Alan Anderson was held scoreless and took four shots.

"The first half I thought we executed our game plan about as well as any this year," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "We went in wanting to corral Raymond Felton, not let him get to the hoop.

"We just fell apart a little bit, to be honest with you. We did not defend as well. We did not corral Felton."

May set the tone early in the second half by grabbing an offensive rebound and hitting a short jumper to start a 13-2 run in the first 3 1/2 minutes. Five points apiece from Felton and McCants sparked a 12-0 burst that pushed the lead to 61-47 with 12 minutes remaining.

Two layups by May pushed the margin to 75-58 with 5:15 to play. After Ager hit consecutive shots from the arc to cut the deficit to 77-66 with just under four minutes to play, North Carolina put away the game in fitting style.

Off a perfectly executed set play, Raymond Felton fed May with an alley-oop pass that May jammed home. After a Spartans miss, Williams slammed a fast-break alley-oop feed from McCants.

"They just came out and wanted it more," Michigan State forward Kelvin Torbert said. "To lose the way we did, it was just lack of effort. This is the worst half of basketball we played all year."

Michigan State (26-7) closed the first half on an 18-8 run behind 10 points - including back-to-back 3-pointers - by Shannon Brown. The Spartans led 38-33 at the break.

Brown finished with 15 points.


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