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In the end, the ninth-ranked Deacons, left a stunned crowd with a 119-114 victory over the No. 4 Tar Heels. It was the most points ever scored against UNC and the first it's ever lost when scoring 100 or more points. The 233 combined points are the second-most in ACC history; Maryland and N.C. State scored 234 points in a 1978 match-up.
“It would have felt much better going home right now knowing we had just won a big game,” Raymond Felton said. “But now I’ve got to ride home mad, upset and I really don’t want to talk to anybody. I just want to drive home, get in bed and go to sleep.”
In a game in which neither team seemed capable of stopping the other’s offense, a remarkable 13 players finished scoring in double figures.
But more importantly, Carolina’s fifth-straight loss to the Deacons put the Tar Heels in a hole to start league play.
“I’ll remember this one for the rest of my life,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “The quality of play at times was really amazing - the shots they made and the shots we made.”
The Tar Heels (6-1, 0-1 ACC) had been able to overcome its depth problems so far this season, but in a contest of attrition like this one, Carolina could not withstand Wake’s final push with Sean May on the bench fouled out and Felton gimpy from a sprained ankle.
“You have to be prepared for everything, but ordinarily you're not prepared for 55 minutes of basketball,” Williams said.
Carolina had its chances to win. Melvin Scott fouled Wake point guard Chris Paul on a 3-point shot that enabled Wake to tie the score at 104-104 with 1.2 seconds left in the first overtime. In the second overtime, both teams were a combined for 0-for-6 the free throw line.
But in the final period of play, the Deacons (7-0, 1-0 ACC), were able to do what the Tar Heels couldn’t in the earlier two overtime stanzas - make their free throws and ice the game.
“We should have won on numerous occasions,” Rashad McCants said.
McCants, who struggled through 4-of-10 shooting in the first half, was dazzling to start the second. His first 3-pointer coupled with a poster-making alley-oop reception helped the Tar Heels to hold a 64-60 lead with 11:21 remaining in regulation. Sixteen of McCants’ game-high 25 points came after halftime.
Wake, with its three-guard offense, tried to press Felton and the Tar Heels once early in the game - once. Felton’s quickness easily penetrated the Deacs’ defense, as he completed 5-of-7 shots from the field in the opening period.
“We needed every guard we’ve got today,” Prosser said. “I had a feeling this was going to be a high scoring game. There were just so many big plays. It was unbelievable. Considering the quality of opponent and the difficulty of venue, it was the best game I’ve ever been a part of.”
If there had been a part of Felton’s game that had been slow to find its mark this season, it was his outside shooting. However he had no problem finding his stroke against the Deacs to the tune of 22 points - by far his best scoring output of the season.
But after incidental contact with Paul in the third overtime, Felton was left writhing on the floor in pain at midcourt. He would return in time for the game’s final seconds, but was slowed considerably.
Wake, the defending ACC regular season champions, were led by Eric Williams’ 24 points on 11-of-18 shooting. However May and Jawad Williams combined for 23 rebounds, and that was enough to keep the Tar Heels even in that category until late in the game. But with the score tied 104-104 midway through the second overtime, Jamaal Levy drove the lane and drew May’s fifth personal foul on a questionable charging call.
“Sean is our one true legitimate post player, so it was a big loss for us,” Williams said. “David Noel and Jawad Williams are trying, but I credit Wake Forest. They did a better job of getting the ball inside and they had better spacing than we did.”
On a team that relies so heavily on its guard play, Williams and 6-foot-11 freshman Kyle Visser, who saw extended minutes due to an injury that sidelined Vytas Danelius for the game, proved the Deacons have balance.
“I feel like I let my team down tonight,” May added. “Eric played well and I didn’t. He’s playing real well right now and I have to step up. I just want to apologize to them for tonight.”
Noel, who was in for the first time this season following a thumb injury, scored his first basket on a fast break layup late in the first half that ignited the already pumped sellout crowd. He also had the defensive gem of the day when he blocked a Wake shot attempt with less than a minute left in regulation.
“[Williams] is a big guy,” Noel said. “We tried to simulate it in practice, as far as me guarding Sean and things like that. Eric is more of a pound player. He likes to back you down, where Sean is more of a finesse player.
“At times I couldn’t really hold the ball like I wanted to, but that’s no excuse.”
The Tar Heels will all go home for the Christmas holidays, while Williams will be out recruiting until Wednesday. Then the team will assemble in Myrtle Beach on Friday in preparation for Carolina’s next game, an out-of-state contest with in-state opponent UNC-Wilmington on Dec. 28.