ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Finally, Roy Williams had a good reason to cry.
Stymied so many times before in his pursuit of a title, the
longtime coach broke through Monday night. The tears this time were
tears of joy, the result of North Carolina's 75-70 victory over
Illinois that finally gave Williams the national championship that
was missing from his otherwise stellar 17-year career.
"I'm just so happy for myself, my family," Williams said.
"These seniors ... they took me for a heck of a ride."
Most Outstanding Player Sean May had 26 points and the Tar Heels didn't allow a basket
over the final, excruciating 2½ minutes.
Freshman Marvin Williams had a tip-in with 1:26 left, Raymond
Felton made three free throws down the stretch and the Tar Heels
(33-4) won their first title since 1993, back when Dean Smith was
coaching and Williams was at Kansas, in the middle of his Final
"He is the greatest coach," Felton said. "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."
Led by May's 10-for-11 shooting, Carolina took a 65-55 lead with
8:51 left and it looked like Williams would win his 41st tournament
game and first championship going away.
But Illinois (37-2) never quits. The Illini shot 27 percent in
the first half and trailed by 13 at halftime.
They trailed by 15 early in the second and 10 a bit later. They
tied the game twice in the last 5½ minutes, but when they had a
chance to force overtime, Luther Head missed a 3-pointer with 17
seconds left, ending their chance to set the NCAA record for wins
in a season.
"We lost our poise down the stretch in the first half,"
Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "That probably cost us because
now you have such a margin to come back."
When it was over -- after Felton had made his last two free
throws, after May had cradled his 10th and final rebound -- Williams
took off his glasses and started looking for people to hug.
A few moments later, he was crying, much like he has at the end
of every season. Usually, the tears come because he has to say
goodbye. No goodbye will be as sweet as this one.
"For Coach to be able to say that the first team to get him a
championship was the 2005 team is an honor," said May, whose 26
points were the same as his dad, Scott, scored in leading Indiana
to the 1976 title over Michigan. "He'll win a few more before he's
Head led Illinois with 21 points. He had a wide-open look at a
3-pointer that would have tied the game at 73, but it bounded off.
Felton made the final two free throws and Weber's magical ride with
the Illini wound up one win short of the real fairytale ending he
"It goes down in history," Weber said. "Not only Illinois
history, NCAA history. Tied the most wins ever, No. 1 for all the
time. You get to the championship game. You know, I mean, if you're
not happy with this, I feel sorry for you, because life ain't
It did get better for Williams, though.
The coach left Kansas to take over the Tar Heels two years ago,
after the program Smith built had faltered and fallen to 8-20.
Williams took a ton of heat for leaving the Jayhawks suddenly after
losing in the title game in 2003 -- his fourth close call at the
He defended the move, saying coming back to his alma mater had
always been his dream.
"The last three or four days, I had five or six of them call me
and wish me good luck," he said of his former players.
It took two years to rebuild, and this week he dealt with a more
familiar issue: Did he need to win a title to call his career a
He told the story of Smith insisting he was no better a coach
after he finally won one in 1982, but Williams conceded that
answering that "same doggone question" did get a little annoying
When he walked into the interview room after this win, his first
statement echoed Smith.
"I'm no better coach than I was three hours ago," Williams
The win gave North Carolina its fourth overall title,
fourth-most in NCAA history and one more than archrival Duke.
Celebrating in the locker room afterward were former Tar Heel
Michael Jordan and Smith, the coach Williams patterned his career
After May made a short shot with 11:22 left in the first half
for an 18-17 lead, Carolina never trailed again -- but this game
never really got comfortable.
May was unstoppable for the first 12 minutes of the second half,
scoring 16 points during that stretch and dishing out two assists
to help North Carolina push its lead to as many as 15 and fight off
the Illinois rallies.
James Augustine, charged with stopping the 6-foot-9 center, was
in foul trouble through most of it. He tried covering May
one-on-one, and that didn't work. Then, he got help, but when May
felt the double coverage, he dished out to a wide-open Jawad
Williams, who made a 3-pointer for a 60-53 lead.
But Illinois hung in, and that was no surprise. This was the
team that rallied from 15 down with 4 minutes left against Arizona
in the regional to make it to its first Final Four since 1989.
This time, though, the Illini could never get a lead. And after
Head hit a 3-pointer with 2:40 left, Deron Williams missed on an
open look, Felton stepped in front of a bad pass by Head, then Head
missed the potential game-tying shot at the end.
In all, the Illini missed five 3-pointers down the stretch, part
of a night in which they shot 12-for-40 from long range -- a season
high for attempts -- and just 38 percent overall.
Felton finished with 17 points and seven assists and Rashad
McCants had 14 for the Tar Heels, all in the first half.
Deron Williams scored 17 and Dee Brown had 12 for the Illini,
but they needed a combined 39 shots to get there -- and, in the end,
the 27-for-70 shooting night just couldn't be overcome.
The game turned in North Carolina's favor during a 13-2 run over
the last 4:58 of the first half.
Felton, McCants and Jawad Williams each hit 3-pointers during
the stretch. More significantly, though, was the way the Tar Heels
dominated on defense.
Head squirmed open for a twisting shot from point blank on the
baseline, but it missed. Roger Powell Jr. rebounded but couldn't
get the ball to the rim -- rejected twice by North Carolina's inside
In the end, the Tar Heels won the matchup that was billed as
Team vs. Talent -- North Carolina with the talent and Illinois with
It turned out Carolina really had both.
"A lot of people said we were just talented, but not a team,"
May said. "But when times got tough, we banded together and came
through. We showed we're not just talented. We're a team."
And the team with the right coach, to boot.