May's inspired play helps to get Heels to the Arch
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The tape rests in Sean May's bag, as it has since the NCAA Tournament started. He last watched it on Christmas Day, and resolved not to view it again until his North Carolina team made it to the Final Four in St. Louis.
So the game tape of May's father, Scott May, winning the 1976 national championship for Indiana, will be put on display in a matter of days, when the Tar Heels touch down by the Gateway Arch.
The youngest May joined his father in college basketball history yesterday, placing the Tar Heels on his wide shoulders and carrying them to an 88-82 victory over a game Wisconsin team at the Carrier Dome before 30,132 in the Syracuse Regional final.
The win vaults North Carolina's storied program back to elite status after five years of missing the Sweet 16 and gives coach Roy Williams another shot at his first national title in his second season with his alma mater. North Carolina will play in the Final Four for a record 16th time, in search of its first national title since Dean Smith captured the championship in 1993.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," May said, one of the championship nets dangling around his neck. "I can't put it into words. I had to step back and I just went over to the side and sat. That's what we talked about when we got here, helping this program back to the top."
North Carolina is officially there, and it has May largely to thank. The 6-foot-9-inch junior bullied, banged, and shot his way to a game-high 29 points and 12 rebounds, earning regional MVP honors. Williams centered his offensive game plan around the burly May, hoping to wear down Badgers center and main offensive weapon Mike Wilkinson.
Before the game, Tar Heels guard Rashad McCants challenged May, telling him, "There's no way he'll be able to guard you. He's too little."
May proved him right, using his 26-pound advantage to batter Wilkinson. Since Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan eschews double-teaming in the post, May was able to focus his pounding solely on Wilkinson. Tired from banging with May all game, Wilkinson scored only 11 points.
"He's a great player," Wilkinson said. "He uses his body well. Once he gets down there, he's almost unstoppable. He just played amazing. He was just all over."
After the buzzer, May looked to the stands and pointed at his father. He thought back to the phone conversation they had the night before.
"You've got one opportunity," the elder May told his son. "You've got to get it done. You've played this game enough, and you know what you have to do."
May took it to heart. He said he rarely gets nervous before games, but on the eve of the Elite Eight contest, he put head to pillow at half past midnight and didn't fall asleep until 2:15 a.m. He stared at the ceiling, and began pacing at one point, inducing roommate Wes Miller to pop up and ask, "Man, what are you doing?"
Whatever he did, it worked. May scored 8 of North Carolina's first 10 points as the Heels started a blistering 10 of 11, making nine shots in a row. The Tar Heels dictated the tempo to their fast-break liking, opening up an 11-point lead.
Just when it appeared North Carolina was poised to run away from the Badgers, Wisconsin struck with a furious 11-0 run to close out the first half, knotting the contest at 44 on a Sharif Chambliss 3-pointer. As the Badgers improbably carried momentum into the break, Williams became enraged, sensing his fifth Final Four as a head coach slipping away.
"It wasn't the most pleasant locker room at halftime," Williams said.
But the Badgers continued their hot shooting, scoring the second half's first 5 points to take their biggest lead, 49-44, with 16:49 left. All 5 points were scored by Alando Tucker, Wisconsin's sensational sophomore forward who scored a team-high 25.
North Carolina awoke, taking Williams's halftime berating to heart. The Heels scored the next 14 points, a run that lasted until 14 minutes remained. McCants scored 5 of his 21 points during the rally, one that Wisconsin answered, but never could totally recover from.
"We kept our poise the whole game," North Carolina point guard Raymond Felton said. "They're a good team. They're going to make their run. But we have to keep our poise and we have to hit shots and make our run, too."
No Tar Heel maintained his poise better than Felton, the unflappable junior who played the game's final 11 minutes on an injured left ankle.
After Wisconsin guard Kammron Taylor drilled a 3-pointer to bring Wisconsin within 81-78 with a minute left, Felton, who scored 17 points, converted both ends of three consecutive one-and-ones to salt the game away.
While Felton completed the victory, it was May who made it.
Along with his usual pregame chat with his father, May spoke to his brother, Scott Jr., another May with a Final Four on his resume. Scott Jr. played at Division 2 Southern Indiana, and constantly ribs his little brother about not having been to the Final Four.
Yesterday morning, Scott Jr. was released from the hospital with a lung infection, adding to the emotional day for May, who had a message for his brother when he called immediately following his net cutting.
"I told him to get healthy," May said. "He has to see us in St. Louis."