“We were so much more focused and sharper,” Roy Williams said. “We were extremely disappointed with the way we played in the ACC Tournament and the kids wanted to get that bad taste out of their mouth.”
Looking as fluid as it had in weeks in the first round of March Madness, and in front of thousands of familiar faces, North Carolina (28-4) won its 160th all-time game in the Queen City, against just 18 losses (.899); while improving to a 6-0 record in NCAA Tournament games played in this home away from home. Not since, well, Dec. 30 for the Continental Tire Bowl, had so many Tar Heel fans been in town.
When Marvin Williams broke away for a thunderous slam to give UNC a 42-19 lead with 7:10 to go in the first half, the roofed arena was every bit as loud as when Derrele Mitchell caught a 51-yard touchdown pass to give the Carolina football team a temporary lead over Boston College at Bank of America Stadium two months earlier. And the Jumbotron replays of Williams’ dunk would give and give again, as would a showcase of pro-UNC highlights throughout the game.
Like a dip in the pool on a sweltering summer afternoon in Chapel Hill, so was the refreshment brought about by a much-needed Tar Heel NCAA tune-up victory in March.
“We’re back to normal now,” said Raymond Felton, who finished with six points and seven assists with just two turnovers.
Marvin Williams couldn’t be stopped, scoring 20 points in 23 minutes on 8-for-11 shooting. He also, along with Sean May, grabbed co-game-high eight rebounds. May had 19 points and Rashad McCants added 16, converting four of six three-pointers.
“I felt like we had to come in and redeem ourselves,” May said. “Every game from here on out is going to be tough, so we tried to come back in and get back to the way we used to play.”
But everyone got into the action in this one.
Jackie Manuel was back to his old tricks, cleaning up around the rim for 10 points. Melvin Scott didn’t miss a shot or commit a turnover on his way to five points. Reyshawn Terry was also a perfect 2-for-2 shooting –- 1-for-1 from beyond the arc –- and made two steals. And even Quentin Thomas looked solid, dishing out four assists and pulling down two boards in extended action.
The Grizzlies (12-19), 7-18 following a loss to IUPUI on Feb. 26, were floating on Cloud Nine after rattling off five-straight wins, including a Mid-Continent Conference tourney title with a buzzer-beater win over regular season champ Oral Roberts. But reality set in quickly, as UNC bolted out to a 59-33 halftime lead behind 73.3 percent shooting –- the Tar Heels’ best shooting half since versus N.C. State on Jan. 28, 2000. Their 59 points -- on 32 possessions -- were the most in a half since taking a 62-26 lead to the locker room at Virginia back on Jan. 29.
The assists also returned, as Carolina’s first 14 baskets were assisted – 19 in the first half en route to 27 for the game.
“We were sensational in the first half sharing the basketball,” said Roy Williams, whose 16 straight NCAA appearances rank third among active coaches behind Dean Smith (23) and Arizona’s Lute Olsen (21).
Early on, it wasn’t so much that Oakland couldn’t score, than Carolina couldn’t miss. So much for a slow down strategy, Greg Kampe’s Grizzlies decided to run with the Tar Heels, though not voluntarily.
“That was an unbelievable first half,” Kampe said. “After we made a couple of turnovers, the game got going too fast. They are an outstanding basketball team. We knew that, but we had to see it firsthand.”
The second half was more of the same, although Oakland did make up a little ground on the Carolina substitutes late in the game.
Now the top-seeded Tar Heels can turn their attention to Sunday’s afternoon match-up with Iowa State, 64-53 winners over Minnesota. With a win over the Cyclones, Carolina can punch its ticket to the Syracuse Regional next weekend and advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since its Final Four run in 2000.
UNC leads the all-time series between the two schools, 2-0; including a 73-51 win over Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg and Iowa State in the second round of the 1995 Southeast regional in Tallahassee, Fla.
The Cyclones fans that remained to watch UNC-Oakland sat most of the game silently with their mouths open in disbelief.
“We feel good that we're one of 32 teams still playing,” Roy Williams said.
As a No. 1 seed, Carolina is 29-7 all-time. The Tar Heels are 5-1 in NCAA Tournament games played in the Carrier Dome, defeating Louisville and California in the 1997 regionals, Northeastern and Villanova in the 1991 first and second rounds and Ohio State in the 1983 regional semifinal; before losing to Georgia two days later.