ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Sean May celebrated his 21st birthday by giving North Carolina's "team" the inside track to a national title.
The overpowering May scored 18 of his 26 points in the second half and North Carolina withstood a furious rally by Illinois for a 75-70 victory and its fourth NCAA championship, giving coach Roy Williams his first title.
"I'm just so happy for myself, my family and these seniors who went 8-20," Williams said. "They took me for a heck of a ride. It is a team. There has been some bias that we just have talent, but this is a team."
In one of the most efficient performances in NCAA Tournament history, May made 10-of-11 shots and undermined undersized Illinois, which had lost just once this season with its perimeter-based three-guard attack.
"This is unbelievable," said May, who was selected Final Four Most Outstanding Player. "My friends and family celebrated (my birthday) last night. The fans gave us great support. I'll never forget this. It's the best day of my life."
"They had probably more inside threat with May than we had, and it made the difference in the game," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.
Nearly 30 years ago, May's father, Scott, scored 26 points to lead Indiana to the national title and was named Most Outstanding Player, a performance May said he watched several times prior to this game.
"My dad talked to me about the celebration in 1976, but I didn't know what it meant until now. I can't describe what this feels like."
May also grabbed 10 rebounds as he wreaked havoc with Illinois' big men, fouling out James Augustine and nearly doing the same to Jack Ingram. And it almost wasn't enough for North Carolina (33-4).
Despite May's presence in the paint, the Fighting Illini (37-2) lived up to their name, charging back from a 15-point second-half deficit by firing away from 3-point range. They were 12-of-40 from the arc, setting a championship record for 3-point shots.
"It's not supposed to be easy. They got hot," May said. "They played well, but we didn't give up. We wanted to win."
Leading the way were Luther Head and Deron Williams, who combined to score 28 of their 38 points in the second half. They each made three 3-pointers after halftime, including one by Head that tied it, 70-70, with 2:39 to go. But the outside shooting faltered down the stretch.
Deron Williams missed a 3-pointer with two minutes left. Carolina gained control and took the lead for good when Marvin Williams tipped in a layup attempt by Rashad McCants with 1:39 left.
On the next possession, Head and Deron Williams missed open 3-pointers before Head had a pass stolen by Raymond Felton - Illinois' first turnover of the second half.
Felton, who had 17 points and seven assists despite being in foul trouble all night, was fouled and split a pair of free throws with 25 seconds left.
Head missed another open 3-pointer and Felton sealed North Carolina's first title since 1993 with two more from the line.
"We had a couple of good looks down the stretch, they just didn't work out," Weber said. "It wasn't meant to be."
It was a disappointing ending to a stellar season for Illinois, which was denied the first championship in school history. The Illini have won 37 games in the NCAA Tournament, the most of any school without a title.
North Carolina shot 52 percent (27-of-52) while Illinois shot just 39 percent (27-of-70).
Roy Williams came up empty in four Final Fours with Kansas before returning to his alma mater two years ago. He is off the hook, joining mentor Dean Smith as a Chapel Hill champion.
"I just love this team as a family," Williams said. "I'm speechless. I usually talk my rear off."
"He is the greatest coach," said Felton, whose teammates piled on him on the sideline after the horn sounded. "If he retired tomorrow, I would vote for him for the Hall of Fame. He told us he would bring us a championship, and we did it as a team."
Hiding Felton's foul trouble in a zone, North Carolina took control by closing the first half with 13-2 run that opened a 40-27 lead. Rashad McCants, who scored all 14 of his points in the first half, tallied seven during the spurt.
Illinois helped by frequently firing - and missing - from the arc. It made just 5-of-19 3-pointers in the first half.
"We just didn't fight hard enough in the first half," Weber said. "They just shot better than us."
Illinois stormed back after intermission and got eight points from Williams and seven from Head during an 18-8 run to pull within 52-50 with 12:46 to play.
May asserted himself, scoring 11 points over the next four minutes as the Tar Heels rebuilt a 65-55 edge with 8:51 left.
But May took a brief break, and the Illini scored the next 10 points - without the help of a 3-pointer - to tie the game with 5 1/2 minutes to go.