N. Carolina handles E. Carolina, 85-65 Montross gets 17

URI is next foe East Regional

March 19, 1993|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The Atlantic Coast Conference failure is behind them and the drive for the national title is on.

That was the message last night at Joel Memorial Coliseum in the first round of the NCAA tournament's East Regional, as North Carolina rebounded from its defeat to Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament championship game.

The Tar Heels were methodical and focused while defeating East Carolina, the only team in the tournament with a losing record, 85-65, to set up a 12:10 p.m. matchup tomorrow with Rhode Island.

There was good news all around for the region's top seed, which has won 12 of its past 13 games.

Point guard Derrick Phelps played 14 minutes and nicely withstood a charging foul shortly after entering to score six points, including a stuff on a breakaway. He wore an assortment of pads, one made of metal to protect his bruised tailbone.

"I hope he's back because we're a better basketball team with him," said coach Dean Smith. "He took the charge and didn't hesitate to go in and dunk. "You wouldn't have thought last [Wednesday] night there was any way he could play. He was in pain shooting foul shots."

North Carolina (29-4) was never seriously threatened by the undersized but game Pirates, who earned an automatic berth in the NCAA by upsetting the field in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

East Carolina was within 49-40 early in the second half before the Tar Heels unleashed a 21-9 spurt to put the game away.

"We just couldn't keep the ball from going into the paint," said Pirates coach Eddie Payne. "Our kids did a nice job of hanging in there, but we had to give up something."

Guard Lester Lyons drilled five of six three-pointers and scored 27 points for East Carolina, which lost 11 of 13 games in one stretch this season.

Twice Lyons was fouled attempting a three-pointer and he converted all six of his foul shots.

But there were just too few weapons and too little size for a team that had played North Carolina only once previously -- a loss 40 years ago.

The fourth-ranked Tar Heels thus won their 57th NCAA game, second behind UCLA in the all-time rankings.

As usual, their offensive efficiency was good (54.7 percent from the field), their scoring well distributed (six players with at least eight points) and their defense tough when it had to be.

"Our whole team felt more comfortable," said 6-foot-8 Henrik Rodl, who was forced to play the point extensively with Phelps sidelined. "We weren't ready for that in the championship game."

North Carolina also had forward Brian Reese, who had to return to New York this week after his grandmother died. The funeral is tomorrow in Georgia, but he is expected to be here to play.

"His mother was happy he was at the wake," said Smith. "I assume he will be here for the next game."

As usual, Smith credited East Carolina for a "good game plan and said I really did respect their quickness. But we played very well offensively and offset it."

The Tar Heels will reach the round of 16 for the 20th straight time if they beat Rhode Island. It won't be as easy as the opener was, but they appear in better condition to face a real test than they were just two days ago.

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