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Texas Gives North Carolina the Hook, 78-75

March 21, 2004|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — It used to be North Carolina advanced to the Sweet 16 every year by sending home teams like Texas.

Things aren't what they used to be.

Texas held off a fast-and-furious North Carolina rally, even getting a clutch free throw in the final seconds by a freshman from Raleigh, to defeat the Tar Heels, 78-75, in a second-round Atlanta Regional game Saturday at the Pepsi Center.

North Carolina rallied from second-half deficits of 13 and 10 points to make it a game in the end.

With eight seconds left, Texas freshman P.J. Tucker, who grew up about 15 minutes from Chapel Hill but ultimately chose Texas over Carolina, made one of two free throws to put the Longhorns up by three.

With no timeouts, the Tar Heels had a final chance to tie the score, but Rashad McCants' last-second shot did not draw iron. It might not have mattered, as McCants' foot appeared to be on the three-point line.

With the win, Texas advances to the Sweet 16 for a third consecutive season while North Carolina returns home to pick up the pieces.

Texas used its size and depth and took advantage of foul trouble to North Carolina's only real post man, Sean May, to grind out the victory.

May picked up his third foul with 16:01 left and Texas quickly took advantage, extending its five-point halftime lead to 11.

North Carolina fought back, though, and Raymond Felton's three-point basket with 11 seconds left cut the Texas lead to two before Tucker's free throw and McCants' last-second miss secured Texas' passage to Atlanta.

"We found a way to finish the game off," Texas Coach Rick Barnes said.

Guard Royal Ivey led Texas with 17 points, and Brandon Mouton added 12.

First-year Tar Heel Coach Roy Williams concludes another year without winning a title, taking that "best-coach-never-to-have-won" moniker into another off-season.

Realistically, this wasn't the year for Williams, who left Kansas after 15 fantastic-but-title-less years to take over a relative mess at North Carolina.

The Tar Heels ran Matt Doherty off after North Carolina missed the NCAA tournament two consecutive years -- unforgivable in Chapel Hill.

Williams admittedly had a tough time adjusting to his players -- and his players to him.

"I'm not an easy guy to play for," Williams said. "These guys did a great job."

That the Tar Heels came within a few points of returning to the Sweet 16 this year could almost be seen as a moral victory, if there were such things at North Carolina.

The Tar Heels finished 19-11, an upgrade on last year's record and definitely something to build on.

"This season was bumpy, but at the same time I enjoyed it," sophomore guard Raymond Felton said.

McCants, a sophomore guard, had a marvelous game in defeat, scoring 27 points.

The Tar Heels had four players finish in double figures, none of them seniors.

"I expect all of them to be back," Williams said. "I really do."

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