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The Daily Tar Heel

McCants' defense plugs up the holes

Heading into this year, Rashad McCants was labeled a one-dimensional player.

He was supposed to be an unstoppable force on offense but a liability on defense.

In four NCAA Tournament games, McCants has proven the first part, scoring 17.8 points per game.

Thanks to his offensive production — particularly a 15-point second half against Villanova on Friday and a 21-point performance Sunday against Wisconsin — the junior swingman was named to the Syracuse Region’s all-tournament team.

But McCants’ biggest contribution of the whole tournament came on the defensive end.

With little more than two minutes remaining and the Tar Heels clinging to a three-point lead against scrappy Wisconsin, the Badgers’ Clayton Hanson got what seemed to be a good look from the right wing.

Hanson had been tearing the Tar Heel defense to shreds all day, finding holes in the 2-3 zone and making five of his first seven field goals — all 3-pointers.

But this time, as Hanson rose for the potential game-tying shot, McCants swooped in and swatted the shot away.

“It was the biggest play of the game — definitely changed the game right there,” said senior forward Jawad Williams. “That guy had been killing us all game with open 3s, and Rashad made a great effort to get over there and block the shot.”

Earlier in the game, McCants found himself in a similar position — in Coach Roy Williams’ doghouse.

Williams lifted Raymond Felton with 3:12 left in the first half to prevent the point guard from picking up his third foul, and in that span, McCants took a few bad shots. Wisconsin scored the last 11 points of the half to force a tie at 44.

“He is so much more mature than even he was last year, much less what everybody tells me he was before,” Williams said. “But what you saw was a mature basketball player who took again what I said, and I told him, ‘That’s over with, but you have to start playing.’”

After the coaching staff challenged McCants at halftime, he responded by scoring five points and dishing out two assists in the Tar Heels’ decisive 14-0 run.

Then, a little more than a minute after his game-saving block, he drilled a 3 of his own from the top of the key that all but clinched the Tar Heels’ berth in the Final Four.

“Coach (Joe) Holladay, one of the assistants, really looked at me and told me that they were going to come right at me,” McCants said. “A player can take that as an insult when he thinks that he’s a pretty good defender, and I just took that as a lot of constructive criticism and took it as motivation and went out there.

“I knew they were going to come at me with the 3-point shooter, and I took it as a defensive sign to shut them down. I feel like I’m good enough defensively to guard anybody. I just blocked the shots and have been at the right place at the right time.”

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