ST. LOUIS -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams reminded Sean May about the date of the national championship game even before the season began.
May didn't say anything to his teammates but it was then when he started envisioning the ultimate 21st birthday party.
The 6-foot-9, 260-pound junior center lived out that fantasy last night, climbing a ladder at the Edward Jones Dome to cut down a piece of the net after leading the Tar Heels to a 75-70 victory over top-ranked Illinois at the Edward Jones Dome.
With his 26-point (on 10-for-11 shooting) and 10-rebound performance that loomed largest in North Carolina's first national championship since 1993, May earned tournament Most Outstanding Player honors and joined his father, former Indiana Hoosier Scott May, in becoming part of just the second father-son duo to win a national championship.
"This is unbelievable," May said. "I just can't believe it. All the hard work, long hours, it has paid off -- it's finally paid off. I don't think I can get up any higher. This is the greatest birthday. I'm so excited for Coach [Roy Williams]. He finally got his game."
Henry and Mike Bibby were the first father-son duo to accomplish the feat of winning national crowns. In his gym bag, Sean May has been carrying a DVD that his father gave him, chronicling the 1976 Hoosiers team, which beat Michigan to cap the last undefeated season in college basketball.
Scott May also had 26 points and made 10 field goals and was the Hoosiers' Most Outstanding Player in Indiana's 86-68 victory in the '76 title game.
"This celebration is a lot better than the '76 celebration," Sean May said. "It's my celebration and my team. I finally got to go through with my team what my dad got to go through. My dad talked about it for so many years, and I never really understood what it was like."
May showed the DVD to the rest of the Tar Heels as inspiration, but it wasn't necessary last night because whenever North Carolina was in trouble, May, who dominated this tournament, averaging 22.3 points and 10.7 rebounds, , simply took over. Eighteen of his 26 points care after halftime.
When the Fighting Illini's three guards, particularly Deron Williams and Luther Head, finally started to assert themselves, the Tar Heels starting pounding the ball inside.
At one point of the second half, May got the ball on six straight possessions.
"He was just killing," said junior point guard Raymond Felton. "Why wouldn't I give it to him?"
Illinois answered with a 10-0 run to tie the game, part of the spurt coming with May on the bench getting a breather. But even after tying the game one more time at 70 on a three-pointer by Head, three-pointer, Illinois was out of comebacks.
May grabbed the rebound on Head's final desperation attempt. He clutched it in his massive arms and as his teammates celebrated around him, May grabbed the ball and ran over to his coach, greeting him with a bear hug.
North Carolina had its first national championship since 1993 and Roy Williams had his elusive first title, largely because of May.
"I don't know where that ball went," May said. "Somebody probably has a nice souvenir. For my 21st birthday, a very special friend of mine bought me [some champagne]. We'll enjoy it when we get back."