Heels roar by Vols, 74-69

Maligned Carolina closes with a rush to keep ACC in running

March 25, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

AUSTIN, Texas -- The prospect of Black Friday for the Atlantic Coast Conference turned into an improbable victory for North Carolina.

The Tar Heels were without their big man and down by seven points heading into the final five minutes, but Tennessee unraveled. North Carolina's 74-69 victory in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament's South Region at the Erwin Center means that the ACC will have a team in the Great Eight for the 21st straight year.

When No. 1 Duke was ousted by Florida in the East Region semifinals last night, its hated rival was left to carry the banner for the ACC. The last time the ACC did not have a team in a region final was 1979, when North Carolina and Duke lost their NCAA openers to Penn and St. John's, respectively, at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh no less.

That day is still called "Black Sunday" on Tobacco Road.

The eighth-seeded Tar Heels got considerable help from the fourth-seeded Volunteers. Tennessee went seven minutes down the stretch without a basket, which allowed North Carolina to go on a 16-0 run and score its second straight upset. The Tar Heels beat top-seeded Stanford to get here.

A win tomorrow over Tulsa would put the Tar Heels in the Final Four for the third time in four years, and the fifth time in a decade. It would be North Carolina's 15th appearance in the Final Four, breaking its tie with UCLA.

North Carolina seemed doomed when Brendan Haywood fouled out with more than eight minutes left and Tennessee stretched its lead to 64-57 with 4: 48 left, but then the Volunteers began to turn the ball over and the Tar Heels kept executing. Freshman guard Joe Forte drained a big three-pointer from the top of the key, and Jason Capel scored off motion.

Senior point guard Ed Cota then beat Tony Harris twice off the dribble to give the Tar Heels a 66-64 lead with two minutes left, and the Volunteers continued to self-destruct. The lead got up to 70-64 before Harris finally broke the Tennessee drought with a three-pointer.

Forte had 20 points for the Tar Heels.

Fourth-seeded Tennessee took control of the teams' first meeting since 1949 in the opening minutes of the second half. Their lead down to 41-38, the Vols went on a 10-4 spurt that displayed their ability to take the ball at the bigger Tar Heels. North Carolina was within 55-53, but that quality paid dividends when Haywood fouled out with 8: 03 left.

Freshman guard Harris Walker drove the baseline and was hit by Haywood, who was charged with his third, fourth and fifth fouls in a little more than six minutes. Walker made both free throws, extending Tennessee's tenuous lead to 57-53.

Point guard Tony Harris left the game with what appeared to be a wrist injury with 14: 20 left and the Vols' lead at 47-42, but center Charles Hathaway fed Vincent Yarbrough for a back-door dunk, and Ron Slay scored on a strong post-up move. Haywood missed a dunk off a lob pass from Ed Cota on an inbounds play, but came back with a three-point play to trim the difference to 51-45 with 11: 44 left.

North Carolina was in danger of getting blown out late in the first half, when Tennessee built a 39-31 lead. Jason Capel made two free throws with 1: 07 left, and beat the halftime buzzer with a long three-pointer from the top of the key that cut the difference to 39-36.

Looking nothing like the team that lost four straight in January, North Carolina bolted to an 18-11 lead behind the hot shooting of Joe Forte, but Tennessee got its attack going and moved on top 30-23 on a dunk by senior forward C. J. Black.

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