With the win, the Tar Heels (25-3, 13-2 ACC) wrapped up their first regular season league title in four years. With a win over Duke on Sunday (or a Wake Forest loss at N.C. State), UNC can lay claim to the outright conference crown and an No. 1 seed in next week’s ACC Tournament to be played at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C.
“I couldn’t have been happier for Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel and Melvin Scott; I really feel good for those guys,” Roy Williams said, referring to his long suffering senior class which, among other things, suffered through UNC’s ignominious 8-20 mark as freshmen.
“It feels good to say we are the champions of something,” David Noel said.
UNC has now won 17 in a row at home, and in doing so, clinched a record 24th ACC regular season title.
Sean May scored a career-high 32 points (13-15 FG, 6-10 FT); and with 12 rebounds, registered his seventh consecutive double-double. It was the most points scored by a Tar Heel since Joseph Forte’s 36-point outing against FSU on Feb. 22, 2001.
“It was the easiest 30 points I’ve ever had in terms of all I had to do was catch the ball and lay it right in,” May said, giving credit to teammates like Raymond Felton (10 assists) and David Noel (8 assists – career-high).
Rashad McCants, saddled on the bench in a sport jacket due to illness, was the last UNC player to score 30 or more, when he scored 31 in a losing effort at Georgia Tech last year.
UNC could participate in as many as 10 more games this season, but the Seminoles (11-18, 3-12), losers of nine straight, will likely see their season come to a close in less than a week. FSU’s loss to UNC also made terminal its hold on last place in the ACC.
It looked like it would be another rout for the undefeated Tar Heels at home – they led by seven points on three different occasions in the game’s early stages, but the Seminoles kept clawing back.
Behind eight first-half three-pointers – three apiece by forward Adam Waleskoski and freshman guard Isaiah Swann – the Seminoles became the only team to hold a halftime lead against the Tar Heels at home, 44-41.
Florida State spoiled Dean Smith’s third Final Four attempt at a national championship in 1972 with a semifinal defeat of the Tar Heels in Los Angeles. A brash Seminoles’ squad stormed into Chapel Hill in 1991 and upset the Tar Heels in their first ever ACC game that would begat Sam Cassell’s legendary “wine and cheese” description of the Dean Dome crowd. And on Senior Night 1996, an unranked FSU team took full advantage of Smith’s timeless tradition of starting all seniors, by sprinting to an early lead and knocking off the 17th ranked Tar Heels.
For a while it appeared history may have been behind Florida State, as the upstarts from Tallahassee would forge a 48-43 lead just a minute into the second half.
“It’s never a surprise when any team in the ACC hangs with us,” said Felton, who also added 15 points. “They got a lot of open shots and knocked them down. All we had to do was bring some intensity and some fire, because we didn’t have it at all in the first half.”
FSU shot 60-percent from the field in the opening stanza, and nearly as well (57.1) from beyond the arc. But in the second half, the Seminoles shot only 36.7 percent and made just two three-pointers.
“We knew going into the game that we could not have any periods where we didn’t manage the game properly,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We had about three or four bad possessions and they made us pay. They’re a good enough team that they don’t need any help.”
Florida State held a two-point advantage as late as the 13:22 mark, but then fell victim to a 15-2 run by the Tar Heels, which squashed any lingering hopes of a miracle upset.
“We did a better job defensively in the second half,” Roy Williams said. “We were much more aggressive.”
Marvin Williams added 17 points off the bench, but for the first time in 22 outings, less than four Tar Heels scored in double figures.
When asked about McCants’ status for Sunday’s regular-season finale with Duke, Roy Williams bristled, “Rashad is not ready to play…when he’s healthy, he’ll be back.”