“We have the feeling that no one in the country can run with us,” Raymond Felton said. “Not to be cocky, but we just play our game.”
Felton, who before the game promised to cut through the Cyclones press, was true to his word. Sometimes facing triple teams, he tallied 15 points, eight assists, three steals and a block, all while not turning the ball over even once.
“Their offensive transitions really hurt us,” Iowa State coach Wayne Morgan said. “They have an excellent team. Felton’s a big factor in that. Anytime you have a point guard like that, it’s very helpful.”
And when Felton is “helpful,” he makes his teammates even better.
Both Sean May (24 pts, 17 rebs) and Marvin Williams (20 pts., 15 rebs., 2-4 3pt.) had double-doubles, with Williams’ coming before halftime.
“I’ve been blessed,” Marvin Williams said. “I’ve been playing well and my teammates have been doing a good job of getting me the ball.”
For the game, 20 of UNC’s 31 field goals were assisted, and 21 were either layups or shot from within 10 feet of the basket.
“This team is getting better because they are realizing that five guys play better together,” Roy Williams said. “People talk about talent too much. Give me five guys who will work their butts off.”
McCants also added 17 points to lead four Tar Heels in double figures.
“They’re just deep,” said Cyclones’ guard Curtis Stinson, who finished with 14 points and seven assists. “We’ve seen better teams though. Of course it’s going to help them when they keep rotating those guys in.”
Other than for an early adaptation period, the top-seeded Tar Heels (29-4) gave their fans little to worry about, by breaking loose on the scoreboard just before halftime. Felton’s first of three three-pointers extended what had been an itchy UNC advantage to a comfortable 45-33 lead at halftime.
The two teams exchanged a lot of baskets early on, with each shooting 43 percent from the floor. The Tar Heels also struggled from beyond the arc, converting eight of 25 for the game.
But Felton just kept pushing the ball and finding open players, before fatigue set in on Iowa State which played just six players until the game’s final minute.
The Tar Heels surrounded halftime with a 19-2 run and had their first 20-point lead with 15:50 left to play.
“We knew they had a thin bench,” McCants said. “We just wanted to run ‘em, run ‘em, run ‘em.”
Eventually Morgan would pull back the reins on the full-court traps. But as Carolina began taking better shots (54 percent from the field in the second half), the Cyclones’ shooting touch worsened to 35.5 percent for the game, including a 4-for-13 mark from three-point range.
Senior center Jared Homan led Iowa State with 19 points and 20 rebounds.
“Jared was a warrior today,” Morgan said.
Next up for Carolina Friday night in the regional semifinals in Syracuse is No. 5 seed Villanova (24-7), which defeated fourth-seeded Florida, 76-65. The Wildcats tied for third with Syracuse in the Big East with an 11-5 conference record.
“We’re not going to be overconfident,” McCants said. “Villanova is very good.”