The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday January 30th

Late-Game Spurt Powers UNC Win

Click here to see a photo gallery of shots from the UNC victory

As his young team started to make its slow crawl back into contention Wednesday night, North Carolina men's basketball coach Matt Doherty invoked the past to inspire the present.

One part of the coach's motivational words, in particular, sank in with his young team.

"He said Carolina always has been known for great comebacks," said center Sean May. "Although this wouldn't be one of them, it'd be our first together. And that meant a lot.

"I was sitting there, and I was like, 'You're right. It's our first real test, so let's go out there and do it together. Let's win.'"

Forget about grading the Tar Heels on their presentation just yet. All that mattered Wednesday night before 14,656 at the Smith Center was the final product, a 71-67 win against Rutgers.

UNC (2-0) advanced to the Preseason NIT semifinals and next week will face in New York the winner of tonight's Kansas vs. UNC-Greensboro game.

"Some people were making a big deal about it, that we had to get to New York," Doherty said. "It doesn't mean if we (didn't) get to New York our season's over."

But it took nearly all the moxie the Tar Heels could muster to keep them from spending Thanksgiving at home.

A Jawad Williams layup with 31 seconds to go put UNC up 69-67, and Rashad McCants' two free throws after a key defensive stop by Raymond Felton sealed the victory.

For a while, though, the Tar Heels seemed destined be ground down by a stingy Rutgers defense.

Rutgers (1-1) created 12 first-half turnovers and held UNC to 42.9 percent shooting before halftime. Instead of pressing full court, as they did against Columbia on Monday, the Scarlet Knights played a tough half-court game.

Early on, McCants and Felton, in particular, struggled to make good decisions.

"I got on him," Doherty said of McCants. "I knew we needed him to have a chance to win this game."

In the second half, Rutgers capped a 13-2 run to go up 11 when Herve Lamizana (20 points) sank a turnaround jumper with more than seven minutes left.

As soon as the raucous crowd seemed to settle in to the thought of a loss, UNC charged back to score seven straight.

With McCants (18 points) and Felton (nine assists, seven turnovers) playing better as the game wore on, it was difficult to tell which team felt the pressure more.

"We outplayed them for 30 minutes and let 10 minutes get away from us," said Rutgers coach Gary Waters.

As Rutgers began to tense up and take ill-advised shots, Waters was forced to use all of his timeouts before the final minutes.

And in the end, it was Rutgers' offensive leader, Jerome Coleman, who sat at midcourt with his shirt over his head to hide the tears that stung his face after the loss, tears that still welled in his eyes when asked about his 2-of-18 shooting night.

Tears that are still foreign to UNC players after earning their first comeback win.

"We had to dig down ... and say, 'This is Carolina basketball,'" McCants said. "There's no giving up."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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