Scores

Final

(6) Connecticut 65

(11-2, 2-0 Big East)

North Carolina 68

(11-5, 2-1 ACC)

    5:00 PM ET, January 18, 2003

    Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

    1 2 T
    #6CONN 27 3865
    UNC 38 3068

    Freshman McCants lights up Huskies for 27 points

    CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- Many people wrote off North Carolina three weeks ago when the Tar Heels lost center Sean May with a broken foot.

    Jackie Manuel

    North Carolina's Jackie Manuel, right, blocks a shot by the Huskies' Emeka Okafor.

    It may be time to re-evaluate things around Chapel Hill.

    Rashad McCants scored 27 points, including the clinching free throws with 3.3 seconds left, as the Tar Heels beat No. 6 Connecticut 68-65 on Saturday, becoming the second program in college basketball to win 1,800.

    Kentucky, with 1,830 wins, is the other.

    "I have a lot of respect for the way their kids played,'' Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said of the young Tar Heels. "Their kids played hard. I watched a couple tapes of them and I don't think they stayed with it as long. They stayed with it tonight when we came back at them. That's a credit to them.''

    The Tar Heels are now 4-2 without May, winning three by four points or less.

    "We are doing the little things, we're trying to work together to try to fill the void that Sean left,'' said Jawad Williams, who scored the go-ahead basket with less than a minute left.

    "We certainly miss Sean, but when he comes back we're going to be that much better,'' added UNC coach Matt Doherty, whose club lost to the Huskies by 32 last season.

    McCants, the ACC scoring leader, was 7-for-11 from the field and 9-of-10 at the foul line as the Tar Heels improved to 11-5, beating their second top 10 team of the season a year after a program-worst 8-20 record.

    The Huskies are 2-2 in their last four since starting 9-0 against some weak competition.

    Connecticut trailed Massachusetts by 25 earlier in the season and came back to win, and the Huskies dug themselves a 19-point hole on the road less than 10 minutes into this one.

    "It's nice to say, but somebody give me a diagram about how to jump on somebody,'' Calhoun said of his team's recent slow starts. "We couldn't make a basket so we couldn't even press.

    "Maybe we have to look at our approach in the locker room or the night before,'' he added. "We can't afford to keep doing this. We pumped a lot of confidence into them.''

    However, a strong second half and a fast-break slam by Emeka Okafor gave Connecticut its first lead at 65-64 with 1:16 remaining.

    Williams countered with the go-ahead basket on a 15-foot jumper 17 seconds later, and after a 3-point miss by Ben Gordon, the Huskies didn't foul until just seconds left as McCants and Raymond Felton dribbled through the defense.

    After McCants nailed two free throws, Gordon's 25-footer at the buzzer that would have tied it hit off the rim and the crowd at the Smith Center stormed the floor.

    "I'm very confident at the free-throw line even though my percentage right now it not too great,'' said McCants, who came in hitting 71 percent. "In the clutch, I'm trying to make big plays.''

    Gordon, averaging 21.8 points coming in, had a horrible shooting day, going 5-for-19 with 10 points. The Huskies, led by Okafor's 13 points, also turned it over 19 times.

    "You can't keep shooting 5-for-19, which was similar to what he did at Oklahoma,'' Calhoun said of Gordon. "I don't have the answer. He's a great basketball player, but he didn't look like a great basketball player tonight. He's got to play better.''

    Gordon is 12-for-48 shooting in road games.

    "I don't think it's mental,'' Gordon said. "I'm going out there and taking the same shots I take. I just wasn't fortunate enough to make many.''

    Connecticut closed to 54-50 before Felton drew fouls three and four on Okafor in a 46-second span to send the nation's top shot blocker to the bench with 7:35 left and the Tar Heels clinging to a six-point lead.

    Calhoun was furious with the second foul against his center and let the officials know it, screaming: "You guys changed the game.''

    After the game, Calhoun called the fourth foul on his star center, "a joke.''

    The Tar Heels scored the first 13 points and went on a 23-4 run to start the game, forcing Calhoun to call two timeouts to try to halt North Carolina's onslaught.

    The veteran coach yelled at his team to "Wake up!'' during the second stoppage. The Huskies, falling behind by at least 10 points for the fifth straight game, responded by getting back into it, going on an 11-1 run to pull within nine.

    But McCants made a driving layup, a dunk and Felton added three free throws as the Tar Heels went back up by double digits and closed the half with a 38-27 lead.

    Gordon didn't get his first basket until there was less than a minute left and finished the opening 20 minutes 1-for-11 from the field.

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