ST. LOUIS – Roy Williams welled up and hugged everyone in sight. Hero Sean May pointed to the stands and hollered at the top of his lungs. Streamers and confetti floated from the rafters.
North Carolina rained on Illinois’ season-long parade. The Tar Heels’ 75-70 victory Monday night spoiled the No. 1-ranked Illini’s bid to become the first 38-win men’s team in Division I history.
An Edward Jones Dome sellout crowd of 47,262, most of them orange-clad Illinois fans, saw the Illini rally from a 47-32 deficit to pull into a tie at 65, and again at 70, but the second-ranked Tar Heels made all the big plays in the final 90 seconds.
“I’m speechless,” Williams said after winning his first national title in five Final Four appearances. “I usually talk my rear end off, but I’m speechless.”
May, on his 21st birthday, scored 18 of his team-high 26 points in the second half. He was 10 of 11 from the field and also pulled down 10 rebounds.
His Most Outstanding Player of the game performance came 29 years after his father Scott put up almost identical numbers (26 points, eight rebounds) to help Indiana complete a 32-0 national title season.
“I don’t think I can get up any higher,” Sean May said. “This is the greatest birthday. I’m so excited for Coach. He finally got his (title).”
Illinois (37-2) was bidding to become the first one-loss national champion since North Carolina State in 1974, but the Illini fired up an uncharacteristic 40 3-pointers, making only 12.
With North Carolina leading 72-70 after a Marvin Williams tip-in with 1:27 left, Luther Head missed a 3-point shot with 1:10 left, committed a turnover with 32 seconds left and missed another 3-pointer with 15 seconds left.
“Sad it’s over,” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, adding that he cried during the team meeting Sunday night. “But I’m not sad how we played. We went down battling; we had chances.”
Trailing 40-27 at halftime, the Fighting Illini charged at the Tar Heels behind Deron Williams, cutting the deficit to 52-50 with 12:47 left.
North Carolina pushed the advantage back to 65-55, but another Illinois surge tied the score at 65 with 5:34 left.
“If you’re not happy with this (season), I feel sorry for you, because life ain’t getting any better,” Weber said.
Illinois led 17-16 with 11:32 left in the first half.
Then the bottom dropped out.
North Carolina went to a 2-3 matchup zone, pushing the Illinois offense farther out.
The Illini went scoreless the next four minutes. They made only three of their last 16 field goal attempts of the half and also committed four turnovers during that stretch.
North Carolina scored 24 of the first half’s final 34 points, holding the Illini to 10 of 37 (27-percent shooting) for the half, including 5 of 19 from 3-point distance
It also marked only the second time this season the Illini had trailed by a double-digit deficit. The other time occurred in the Chicago Region final, when they rallied from a 15-point deficit in the last four minutes of regulation to beat Arizona in overtime.
North Carolina 75, Illinois 70
North Carolina (33-4)—J.Williams 3-6 0-0 9, McCants 6-15 0-0 14, May 10-11 6-8 26, Felton 4-9 5-6 17, Manuel 0-1 0-2 0, Scott 0-2 0-0 0, Terry 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, M.Williams 4-8 0-1 8, Noel 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 27-52 12-19 75.
Illinois (37-2)—Augustine 0-3 0-0 0, Powell Jr. 4-10 0-0 9, Head 8-21 0-0 21, D.Williams 7-16 0-2 17, Brown 4-10 2-2 12, McBride 0-0 0-0 0, Carter 0-1 0-0 0, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Ingram 4-9 2-2 11. Totals 27-70 4-6 70.
Halftime—North Carolina 40-27. 3-Point Goals—North Carolina 9-16 (Felton 4-5, J.Williams 3-4, McCants 2-5, Scott 0-1, M.Williams 0-1), Illinois 12-40 (Head 5-16, D.Williams 3-10, Brown 2-8, Powell Jr. 1-2, Ingram 1-3, Carter 0-1). Fouled Out—Augustine. Rebounds—North Carolina 34 (May 10), Illinois 39 (Powell Jr. 14). Assists—North Carolina 12 (Felton 7), Illinois 18 (Brown, D.Williams 7). Total Fouls—North Carolina 13, Illinois 18. A—47,262.
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