Villanova's spirited surge in closing minutes falls short

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- The whistle blew in the final seconds just
as the ball left the hand of Villanova's Allan Ray. Defender Melvin
Scott only hoped his foul came before the basket.

Much to Scott's surprise -- not to mention Ray and his teammates
and coaches -- referee Tom O'Neill instead called traveling, leaving
North Carolina with possession of the ball and a three-point lead.

"Once they called traveling, I felt like a kid in a candy
store, I was so happy," Scott said.

The top-seeded Tar Heels took advantage of the good fortune,
holding off the Wildcats 67-66 Friday night to advance to the
regional finals for the first time since 2000.

"I thought the ref called the foul, but he called the walk,"
Ray said. "I feel we should have never put ourselves in that
position anyway. I can't say that's the reason we lost, because of
that one play."

Following the turnover, fifth-seeded Villanova (24-8) was forced
to foul, and Rashad McCants made a free throw with 7.6 seconds left
to increase the Tar Heels' margin to four. Kyle Lowry rattled in a
3-pointer about 5 seconds later to bring the Wildcats to 67-66, and
he chased down Sean May's errant inbounds pass just before the

But his desperation heave was wide, letting North Carolina
(30-4) move on to play Wisconsin in the round of eight in the
Syracuse Regional. The Badgers beat North Carolina State 65-56
earlier Friday.

"We all just hung in there and stuck together," Scott said.
"We just found a way. It wasn't coaching, it was us. We did it."

Debris was thrown on the court from the stands after the frantic
finish, but order quickly was restored.

McCants scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half and Marvin
Williams added 16 for the Tar Heels. Point guard Raymond Felton had
11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists before fouling out for the
first time this season.

He missed the season opener with a one-game suspension for
playing in an unsanctioned summer league game, and the Tar Heels
promptly lost to Santa Clara. With Felton on the court, they have
looked downright unbeatable at times, but they couldn't rely on him
against Villanova.

It didn't matter. North Carolina won anyway.

"That's how deep my team is," Felton said.

Randy Foye led the Wildcats with a career-high 28 points, and
Lowry also set his career best with 18 points. Ray, the leading
scorer coming in with an average of 16.5 points, had another
miserable performance, shooting 2-for-14 and scoring seven points.
In the tournament, he finished only 3-for-32.

"We gave it our all out there," Ray said. "We didn't give

Villanova was in the game the whole way despite not having
Curtis Sumpter, a 6-7 forward who was the second-leading scorer for
the Wildcats. Sumpter tore a knee ligament last Sunday in the first
half of a victory over Florida in the second round.

With Foye leading the way, Villanova jumped to a commanding lead
in the first half. He scored 11 points in the opening 4½ minutes --
most with a defender right in his face -- and his 3 with about 6
minutes left before halftime made it 30-19.

"That was the hottest I think anybody's been on us," Tar Heels
forward David Noel said. "They couldn't miss a shot."

Foye cooled off, and North Carolina rallied behind McCants, who
ditched a new pair of shoes during the break and got his game back,
too. Held to two points in the first half, he immediately took over
when Felton went out following his fourth foul.

"I'm a very superstitious guy, and I only had two points at
halftime," McCants said. "So I went back to the old ones."

He swished a jumper from beyond the arc about 60 seconds later
to give the Tar Heels the lead for good, and on three of the next
four possessions, he drew fouls and converted both free throws each
time to make it 61-50.

The Wildcats didn't quit. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of
their improbable run to the NCAA championship, they rallied behind
Lowry, a 6-foot freshman. He leaped high for an offensive rebound
and got fouled. His two free throws made it 61-54.

Later, following a 3-pointer by Williams, Lowry powered over
McCants for a layup as he was hit on the arm, and completed the
three-point play. Finally, he forced Felton into his fifth foul by
drawing a charge with 2:11 left. Villanova got a 3 from Mike Nardi,
two free throws from Ray and another one by Foye to get within two.

But even without Felton, the Tar Heels did enough to win. They
had only one turnover with senior Melvin Scott running the offense,
and he also made two free throws to make it 66-63, setting up the
final seconds.

"We came here to win the tournament," Villanova coach Jay
Wright said. "I really believe that we were good enough to win
this tournament. We will definitely look back on this season and be
proud of what we accomplished. It just hurts at this time."

Game notes
Lowry started for only the third time this season, taking
the place of Sumpter. Lowry was in for about 2½ minutes before
Jason Fraser came in. ... Noel fell to the floor after getting hit
in the groin late in the first half, but walked unassisted to the
bench and later returned. ... The total attendance, counted at
halftime of the second game, was 30,916, a new on-campus record for
the NCAA tournament. The previous mark of 30,681 also was set at
the Carrier Dome in 2000.