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The Daily Tar Heel

McCants Shows Forbidden 'X' To Celebrate Tar Heel Victory

He'd been warned before, but when freshman Rashad McCants was fouled with 3.3 seconds left with North Carolina leading No. 6 Connecticut by one, there was no room for restraint.

McCants threw the ball down, whirled around to the screaming, sell-out crowd in the Smith Center, and raised his hands with clenched fists to make an "X" with both arms.

The fans went wild as McCants and freshman center Byron Sanders held their crisscrossed wrists up in the air and bumped chests.

"I'm as emotional as they get, as far as my passion for the game," said McCants, whose 27 points led the team. "I want to win every game I play. Being able to release that every time I step on the court, it's just amazing for me."

McCants sank both shots, and moments later the Tar Heels jumped up in jubilation as the risers emptied and students spilled onto the court.

"I've always wanted to be in that situation," McCants said. "I've watched Mike (Jordan) and how he's done it, and I just wanted to get my chance."

And in clutch time, UNC often looks to get McCants the ball. The Tar Heels have become accustomed to relying on the 6-foot-4 swingman to make big plays.

"Rashad's a great player," Felton said. "He's the type you can count on to make the big shots."

But the using the "X" to punctuate big plays was not part of North Carolina's game plan.

The UNC coaching staff had discouraged McCants and the other players from using what had become the new class's calling card at last year's McDonald's All-America game when McCants and future teammates Raymond Felton and Sean May unveiled the gesture together.

Most of the team pumped up the crowd at this year's Midnight with Matt and the Heels with the "X," and McCants used the hand symbol in the waning moments of UNC's season-opening win against Penn State.

McCants said the coaches told him soon after that the "X" wasn't an appropriate method of celebration to use on the court, because it came off as if it was directed toward the opposing team.

While Tar Heel coach Matt Doherty denounced the use of the "X," he said he didn't discourage other ways to get the crowd involved.

"I definitely want a show of emotion," Doherty said. "I've never told them not to wave to the crowd and pump their fists."

So the confident freshman's sign was suppressed -- at least for a little while. But Saturday, the orders went out the window, and McCants did what came naturally.

"We had that fire in our eyes," McCants said after the game. "Nobody could beat us tonight."

As UNC gathered in the tunnel before the game, it was obvious the team was as excited as it's been all season.

"The media was down on us, so we wanted to use that as a chip on our shoulder," McCants said. "That gave us an extra edge."

And as far as repercussions go for his method of celebration, McCants had little to say.

"If I get in trouble, I get in trouble."

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

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