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March 17, 2010

Tar Heels advance in NIT

CHAPEL HILL - It wasn't as loud as Roy Williams remembered it, but his latest memory of Carmichael Arena was definitely a good one.

Williams' fourth-seeded North Carolina team overcame a second-half stumble to hang on for a first-round National Invitation Tournament win against No. 5 seed William & Mary, 80-72.

"It was fun," Williams said. "It was fun seeing my team hustle like that. It was fun seeing my team have a passion. It was fun seeing my team have fun."

The Tar Heels (17-16), making their sixth NIT appearance and first since 2003, fed off the energy of the crowd to withstand a barrage of 3-pointers that had the Tribe (22-11) leading the game with three minutes to go.

Carolina scored the game's final 11 points to come away with the win and advance to play top seed Mississippi State, which beat Jackson State 81-67.

Sophomore forward Tyler Zeller sealed UNC's win with a steal and dunk that put his team up five with 48 seconds to go and sent the 6,822 fans at sold-out Carmichael into a frenzy.

"It was a great atmosphere," Zeller said. "I love having this kind of crowd."

Deon Thompson led Carolina with 20 points, but the most exciting offense came from the Tribe's myriad outside shooters.

David Schneider hit 7 of 15 from 3-point range to lead all scorers with 21 points.

He scored William & Mary's final field goal, a three that put it up 72-69 with five minutes to go, before the team's legs seem to give out and no more shots went down.

"You just got to hope they cool off, honestly," point guard Larry Drew II said. "At one point, it seemed like they wouldn't miss."

It didn't take long for the revamped arena - which was called Carmichael Auditorium when the men's team played games here from 1965-86 - to get loud with the Heels jumping out to a quick 9-0 lead.

But the lead didn't last long thanks to the Tribe's biggest strength: its 3-point shooting.

William & Mary's first four baskets came from beyond the arc - and 21 of their 28 first-half field goal attempts were from 3-point range - which gave them a 12-11 lead.

Eventually Carolina retook the lead and built it to as many as 11 points before heading into the locker room with a 43-33 lead at halftime thanks to 53-percent shooting and 14 assists on 17 baskets.

But the lead wouldn't last thanks to some UNC miscues and the Tribe's hot shooting.

W&M hit 16 of its 43 3-point attempts in the game, with three players - Schneider, Danny Sumner and JohnMark Ludwick - accounting for 15 of the made shots.

And all that damage was done despite being without the team's second-leading scorer, Quinn McDowell. The forward was averaging 14 points per game and leading the team with a 43-percent shooting clip from beyond the arc.

"Usually a team has one or two good shooters, but their whole team could shoot," Zeller said.

Thanks to the momentum swing, the crowd's energy, which was palpable all night, shifted in the direction of William & Mary's small but vocal contingent.

But UNC's seniors, Thompson and Marcus Ginyard, didn't want a night they enjoyed so much to end with a loss.

"Before the game, we looked at each other and said, 'Let's win tonight,'" Ginyard said. "Losing now, it's the end."

So the Tar Heels got to play on in the postseason, and they also got to enjoy a bit of history in this 100th season by playing at the program's old arena - for the first time in 24 years - against a team that was UNC's opponent for the first-ever game here, on Dec. 4, 1965.

But that's not what Ginyard is going to remember most.

"The biggest thing we'll remember about playing here is the way we played," Ginyard said. "We came into this game looking at it as another fresh start. Today was the first step."


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