5:30 PM ET, February 29, 2004
PNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Rashad McCants came through in the clutch again for North Carolina.The sophomore scored a game-high 22 points and hit two key 3-pointers late to lift the 12th-ranked Tar Heels past No. 14 North Carolina State 71-64 Sunday.Jawad Williams scored 15 points off the bench for the Tar Heels (17-8, 7-7 Atlantic Coast Conference), who let another big lead slip away before holding on for just their second road win in league play.Raymond Felton added 10 points and also hit two key shots late.The win allowed the Tar Heels to sweep the season series with the Wolfpack (18-7, 10-4). A loss would have marked the first time they had not swept at least one ACC team in a season since joining the conference in 1953.More importantly, the Tar Heels overcame yet another blown lead to hand N.C. State its first loss in 15 home games.Already this season, North Carolina squandered a 24-point first-half lead in an overtime loss to Florida State and lost second-half leads in losses to Kentucky, Duke and Virginia. On Sunday, North Carolina led by as many as 16 points in the first half."We've had five games where in the final seconds we've had the ball and didn't win," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "I asked everyone to play tougher today and they did."McCants certainly answered the call. He went 8-for-14 from the field, including 4-for-7 from 3-point range. His two 3s added to late-game heroics that included consecutive 3-pointers to beat Connecticut in January and a banked-in 3 to turn away a Maryland rally two weeks ago."He had a couple of shots that were just daggers to us down the stretch," N.C. State coach Herb Sendek said.In addition, Jawad Williams, who was benched in favor of David Noel for defensive purposes, went 6-for-7 from the floor and added two blocked shots in 24 minutes."If anything, it motivated me," said Williams, who had started 22 of 23 games he had played in this season. "I kind of considered it a slap in the face, but I went out there and played for my teammates."North Carolina shot 56 percent and held the Wolfpack to 36 percent shooting. Both totals were season-best performances for the Tar Heels in league play.In addition, N.C. State shot just 8-for-34 from 3-point range.The Wolfpack trailed 40-27 at halftime, but played with better defensive intensity to erase the deficit. N.C. State eventually took a 56-54 lead on Engin Atsur's reverse layup off an offensive rebound with 4:24 to play.But on the next play, McCants hid behind a pick from Noel on the left side and hit a 3-pointer over the outstretched arm of Julius Hodge for a 57-56 lead.Felton lost the ball on the right wing in front of the North Carolina bench on the next possession. McCants picked it up and launched a fadeaway 3 to beat the shot clock."When (Felton) lost it, all I was thinking was to just shoot it," McCants said. "I don't pray when I shoot. I knew it was going in."The ball swished through the net with 3:04 left, stunning the rowdy RBC Center crowd and giving the Tar Heels a 60-56 lead."He's clutch. That's all I said to him coming down the floor," said Sean May, who had 11 points and eight rebounds. "He's hit every big shot for us this year. I think he wants that pressure."McCants followed those shots by rebounding a missed 3 from Atsur, and passing it to Felton for a transition score and a 62-56 lead.Felton added a hanging, double-pump shot in the lane just before the shot clock expired for a 64-59 lead with 1:03 left. The Wolfpack got no closer than four points after that.North Carolina hit 16 of 28 shots in the first half to take control, building a 40-24 lead on Melvin Scott's 3-pointer late in the half. The Tar Heels held N.C. State to 10-for-35 shooting in the half."They just made big shots early on and that kind of set the tone for the game," said Marcus Melvin, who led the Wolfpack with 18 points and 10 rebounds. "In the second half, we were a little more aggressive. That kind of bent the game to our favor, but by then it was a little too late."Neither team was at full strength. Top reserve and defensive ace Jackie Manuel was sidelined with an ankle injury for North Carolina, while N.C. State's Scooter Sherrill missed most of the second half with a badly sprained ankle.
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