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The Daily Tar Heel

Tar Heels Steal Show in Big Apple

North Carolina showed that any growing pains it is experiencing aren't hurtful enough to keep them for winning, as the Tar Heels marched into Manhattan and grabbed the Preseason NIT Championship from Stanford on Friday night with a sound 74-57 victory.

"It's a great feeling," freshman point guard Raymond Felton said. "But we need to keep the same mindset and keep playing hard."

UNC's state of mind hasn't faltered yet this season, and Friday night in Madison Square Garden in front of 11,718 fans -- most of whom were Tar Heel supporters -- was no exception.

Despite facing a zone defense for the first time for extended minutes, UNC managed to have four players score in double-digits.

Sophomore Jackie Manuel, who has come to life in his second season, dropped what would be the first of five UNC 3-pointers in the game's opening 15 minutes, giving UNC a sturdy 31-17 lead.

The Tar Heels (5-0) shot almost 43 percent from behind the arc (bettering their previous average of 31.7 percent through four games) while holding the Cardinal (4-1) to almost half as many treys.

"We came up here to do a job, and we got it done," said freshman guard Rashad McCants, who was named tournament MVP. "We're going to continue to keep winning games and keep practicing hard."

Level-headed words from a player that less than an hour earlier wowed the crowd with a one-handed slam reminiscent of another flashy North Carolina player -- Vince Carter.

"As soon as he caught it, I knew exactly what would happen," freshman center Sean May said. "That's why I didn't slide over. I felt sorry for the guy that slid over, because that is about the dumbest thing you could have done."

But perhaps more importantly than the Tar Heels' offensive prowess was their defensive showing.

UNC limited the Cardinal to less than 34 percent shooting and hassled Stanford into 21 turnovers.

"We came out fighting," May said. "We're giving up some size, but we just keep fighting."

The Tar Heels' height deficit was most apparent on the boards. Stanford outrebounded UNC by 15, with North Carolina only nabbing nine offensive boards. But the Tar Heels will gladly learn from any weakness exposed -- as long as it comes from a win.

"We're really happy right now," senior forward Will Johnson said. "It's a lot easier to learn something from a win."

On Wednesday, the Tar Heels jumped on No. 2 Kansas early and never looked back, building a nine-point halftime lead before cruising to a 67-56 win. McCants led all scorers with 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting.

"We feel like this is a team game," McCants said Wednesday. "We came in here with a game plan and we executed it. We're young, but we believe in each other."

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

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