CHAPEL HILL –
Six Tar Heels scored in double figures and the team shot 57% from the field as Carolina capped an undefeated December with its eleventh straight victory.
For a second consecutive outing, point guard Raymond Felton shot the ball impressively well, racking up 13 points on just 5 field goal attempts to go along with his eight assists. Felton has now connected on 12 consecutive three point attempts dating back to the win over Virginia Tech, bringing him within range of the NCAA record of 15 consecutive makes.
"Raymond found out [last year] you couldn't will it in because he had bad technique," remarked a generally pleased Roy Williams. "In the offseason we talked about really working on his shot. His right elbow was really flying out, he was shooting the ball almost from the left side of his face instead of his right side. He's worked extremely hard to get his right elbow underneath and shot the ball from the right side . . . He's also making great decisions on when to take his shot and getting his feet set."
"His shooting is opening up a plethora of opportunities for us," added junior forward David Noel.
"His knocking down the three point shot is opening up the offense a lot . . . That way a lot of guys can't help off of him. He's usually the guy feeding the post, and if we kick it out to him he'll knock down the three."
On the negative side, Felton also committed six turnovers in the opening stanza, however, including three in the opening three minutes. "I really just couldn't hold on to the ball tonight - no excuses," admitted Felton in the postgame locker.
Carolina's problems holding on the ball were trivial to those experienced by Cleveland State, however. The Vikings racked up 22 first half turnovers "over one a minute" to more than offset their impressive 62.5% first half shooting. The visitors reduced their second half turnovers to nine but also shot just 26.5% in the second stanza.
The Vikings were led by talented senior forward Omari Westley's 18 points. When these teams met in November 2003 in Cleveland, Westley had 20 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists as the Vikings nearly pulled out a monumental upset. Westley was again by far the best Cleveland State player tonight, but it was clear early on that this game was never going to be as competitive as last year's tilt.
"The turnovers were clearly the difference in the first half," said Cleveland State head coach Mike Garland. "We gave away half the points they scored on uncontested layups and dunks off of turnovers."
Indeed, Carolina recorded five dunks in the first half, but the most impressive play was a spectacular tap-in from quick-reacting Jawad Williams. Having already converted two alley-oop passes from Felton for dunks, Jawad managed to get a hand on a slightly too high pass from Felton as he flew by on the right side of the rim. As the ball caromed off the rim, Williams, now on the left side of the basket, quickly leaped to tap-in his own miss.
That play kicked off a 14-2 run to push the Tar Heel lead to 51-32. Key plays during that stretch included two steals from Rashad McCants, one of which led to a McCants finger roll layup in transition, the other to a driving layup from Scott off McCants' feed.
The most dramatic moment of the first half, however, came with 1:13 remaining, when Roy Williams decided to get an early start on his halftime team talk by sending in deep reserves Wes Miller, Reyshawn Terry, C.J. Hooker, Byron Sanders, and Charlie Everett. While the Blue Team outscored Cleveland State 1-0 over the final minute, Williams, still angry after watching his team concede a transition layup moments after a Felton three pointer, chewed out his starters on the sideline.
The second half proved to be more lopsided than the first, with the undoubted highlight being Sean May's remarkable one-handed, full extension dunk off a fast break lob pass from Felton to give Carolina an 82-50 lead. May. May was quick to rank the dunk as the best of his career in postgame comments. "I'm excited about that one, I feel like I got a little bit off the ground," said the Bloomington junior.
Unfortunately, most Carolina fans will have to wait until Roy Williams's weekly highlight show to see the dunk in its full glory, this was the only Tar Heel game of the 2004-05 season not to be televised.
Notes and quotes:
Count Mike Garland among this Tar Heel team's admirers. "The things they were able to do to us tonight were things it takes a very special team to do and it takes a guy that can orchestrate a defense and offense that is superior to you and can take advantage of you. We are a very quick up-tempo team and there were things that they were doing to take us out of our break which I thought no team could actually do."
Carolina's cagers gathered Thursday afternoon to watch their classmates play in the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte. The Tar Heels stepped out for a pregame workout midway through the game but returned in time to see the decisive moments. "Unfortunately they lost but we're proud of our football team," said Noel, adding, "We can't wait to get Jesse [Holley] back." The sophomore guard/wide receiver is expected to rejoin the basketball team in time for the January 8 ACC home opener against Maryland.
Rashad McCants had his right knee iced after departing the game with 15:20 remaining. McCants, who did not return, says the knee is not an issue. One of the more memorable moments of Thursday's contest was McCants leading the cheers during the timeout after Sean May's spectacular second half alley-oop dunk, using his arms to spur the crowd of 18, 537 into a standing ovation. "You really don't see that from Sean too much, but he's cut down on his weight," said McCants. "We knew he could do it, it was just a matter of time."
Roy Williams expressed special appreciation to Carolina fans for the respectable turnout for this contest only a few short hours after the conclusion of football season. Williams also thanked the Carolina band, which arrived midway through the first half I'm really pleased that our band was able to get back here and be involved tonight, because they had big time duties [at the Tire Bowl]. To be a band member and be in a bowl game's got to be a pretty big deal, so for them to make it back here tonight was great."
How much has this team improved over the past twelve months? According to Sean May, the difference is incomparable. Asked how this year"s team would fare if matched up against last year's team at the same point of the season, May said "if it was at a neutral site, it would probably be a blow out. If the team last year was at home, we [this year's team] would win, but it probably would be a close game. This team's in so much better shape, so much more unselfish, we play better defense. We're just better right now."