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The Daily Tar Heel

May emerges as primary threat

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Final Four dreams that seemed so realistic several minutes earlier were quickly starting to fade for top-seeded North Carolina.

The Tar Heels hadn’t scored in more than five minutes, and sixth-seeded Wisconsin had ripped off a 16-0 run to turn an 11-point deficit with 2:30 left in the first half to a five-point Badger advantage 2:30 into the second half.

North Carolina desperately needed a basket, and point guard Raymond Felton — and probably everybody else in the Carrier Dome — knew who the play was going to as he walked the ball up the court. The Tar Heels were going to turn to the man they had relied on as their go-to player for much of the past month.

And even though Wisconsin knew the ball was going to Sean May, there was nothing the Badgers could do about it.

Felton lofted a lob to the center who collected the pass, absorbed contact from Mike Wilkinson and calmly banked in the shot to set up a 3-point play.

The bucket sparked a momentum-shifting 14-0 run that carried the Tar Heels all the way to St. Louis. May, the Syracuse Region’s Most Outstanding Player, even carried UNC in that span, scoring seven of his game-high 29 points during the decisive spurt.

“Sean was having a big game, and we felt if we were going to go down, we were going to go down with the ball in his hands because of the game he was having,” David Noel said.

UNC established May early, turning to him for eight of its first 10 points. He scored 16 first-half points as the Tar Heels opened what looked to be a commanding 44-33 lead. But the Badgers collapsed their defense around May, and he only got two touches during Wisconsin’s run.

But the run spanned across halftime. During the intermission, the UNC coaching staff told the team to lean more on May, who also grabbed 12 rebounds.

“I told him I was his biggest cheerleader out there,” said senior Melvin Scott. “All I needed were some pom-poms, because I kept saying, ‘Get the ball to Sean, get the ball to Sean.’ They couldn’t stop him.”

May is starting to grow accustomed to his role as the center of the offense.

When Rashad McCants was sidelined with an intestinal disorder at the end of the regular season, May averaged 23.5 points and 14.8 boards in the four games without him. The Tar Heels went undefeated.

“I felt it was the right opportunity for me to expand my game and to help my team win,” said May as he wore one of the nets around his neck. “I had an opportunity to play great basketball and be more of a focal point.”

May didn’t need any inspirational speeches from his coaches or teammates once McCants went down. The junior put it upon himself to become the player UNC would turn to in desperate situations.

“I think he challenged himself. There’s no challenge bigger than when you challenge yourself,” Jawad Williams said. “You don’t have to say anything to a guy that’s already self-motivated.”

It was that motivation that got May up every morning in the offseason to put himself in the shape that allowed him to play the best basketball of his career down the stretch, including 34 strong minutes Sunday.

Although May shunned junk food in his effort to slim down, he might have earned some with his performances this March.

“I’ll give Sean all the candy bars he wants,” Williams said before cracking a big smile. “I take that back, I’ll give him one or two. When we win the national championship, I’ll give him all the snacks he wants.”

That would be a sweet victory.

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