Turnaround Victory

Down by 16, Tar Heels dominate second half

North Carolina 74 Southern California 64

NCAA Men's Tournament

March 24, 2007|By Mike Anthony | Mike Anthony,The Hartford Courant

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It took awhile for North Carolina to remind Southern California who it was last night, but the Tar Heels certainly did.

For nearly 30 minutes, Carolina struggled as USC and its spectacular freshman, Taj Gibson, shined. Then, having been outplayed in virtually every facet, the Tar Heels showed why they are a No. 1 seed and why they have advanced past this stage so many times.

North Carolina defeated fifth-seeded USC, 74-64, in an East Regional semifinal before 19,557 at the Meadowlands. The victory pushed Carolina (31-6) into the regional finals for the 22nd time and created the matchup most fans wanted to see. The Tar Heels will play second seed Georgetown tomorrow for the right to go to the Final Four.

Carolina, which trailed by 16 early in the second half, found itself just in time. A decisive 18-0 run was built on its speed and USC's exhaustion. The Tar Heels, who trailed 59-49 when the run started, suddenly scored with ease to take a 60-59 lead - their first since 1-0 - and pulled away. The run delivered them from a prolonged funk and negated USC's spirited effort.

"I didn't know it was 18-0, but that's great," said Brandan Wright, who had 21 points and nine rebounds. "When we have a spurt like that and play good defense, we're hard to beat."

Gibson, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., came home to introduce himself to the nation. A handful of days after outplaying Texas' Kevin Durant, Gibson dominated Tyler Hansbrough. Gibson finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds - 12 and nine in the first half. But he fouled out, his teammates ran out of gas, coach Tim Floyd picked up a late technical and everything had come apart for Southern California (25-12).

The better team for three-quarters of the game, the Trojans end their first appearance in the NCAAs since 2002 in the Sweet 16. North Carolina is one victory from a 17th Final Four appearance.

"We feel very, very lucky," coach Roy Williams said. "But we're still playing."

The Tar Heels hit rock bottom early in the second half, trailing 49-33. The Trojans had scored the first seven points of the half after closing the first half on an 8-0 run. Carolina went nearly seven minutes without a field goal.

"I didn't throw any chairs at halftime," Williams said. "I did get a little heated and upset about our effort and concentration. But I never lost faith."

Wayne Ellington ended a Carolina drought with a basket that made it 49-35. Later, Danny Green scored to cut the lead to 10. It was 59-49 when North Carolina started its run, fueled mostly by Marcus Ginyard (10 points), Ellington (12), Wright and relentless rebounding. The Tar Heels had 20 offensive rebounds.

"They took advantage of us on the glass in the second half," Floyd said. "They did a tremendous job of offensive rebounding. We couldn't seem to get in front of them. Our defense was terrific all night. We never really got hurt [by] their offense. We got hurt on the boards. They kept coming at us."

USC, which got 15 points each from Lodrick Stewart and Nick Young, was not intimidated by North Carolina, two years removed from a national championship. The Trojans came in after a run to the Pacific-10 championship game. They came in having sent Durant and Texas home. They came to New Jersey without delusions of grandeur but still talking about taking their program to the next level - to an elite level like that of the Tar Heels. No one gave USC a shot, players figured, so this was no time to be tense.

Early, they were dominant. Gibson pushed USC to a 42-33 halftime lead. But the Trojans couldn't finish. North Carolina began pounding the offensive boards and outrunning Southern California. Gibson found foul trouble, and everything changed. The Tar Heels shot just 39 percent and made two of 14 three-pointers but clicked when it mattered most.

"We know how close we were to going home," Ellington said. "In the locker room at halftime, everybody was saying, `We're not ready to go home yet.' We made our minds up and gave a great effort in the second half."

Mike Anthony writes for The Hartford Courant.

USC-Young 6-13 2-2 15, Gibson 7-12 2-3 16, Stewart 6-15 0-0 15, Hackett 2-4 1-2 5, Pruitt 5-15 2-2 13, Lewis 0-2 0-0 0, N'Diaye 0-0 0-0 0, Wilkinson 0-0 0-0 0, Cromwell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-61 7-9 64. NORTH CAROLINA-Wright 9-15 3-4 21, Hansbrough 1-6 3-4 5, Ginyard 3-9 4-5 10, Ellington 6-16 0-0 12, Lawson 2-10 0-1 4, Terry 4-6 0-1 9, Frasor 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Green 3-7 2-2 8, Thompson 1-4 0-0 2, Miller 1-4 0-0 3, Stepheson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-77 12-17 74. Halftime-USC, 42-33. 3-point goals-USC 5-18 (Stewart 3-7, Young 1-5, Pruitt 1-6), North Carolina 2-14 (Terry 1-2, Miller 1-4, Ginyard 0-1, Green 0-2, Ellington 0-2, Lawson 0-3). Fouled out-Gibson. Rebounds-USC 39 (Gibson 12), North Carolina 46 (Ginyard, Wright 9). Assists-USC 13 (Pruitt 7), North Carolina 11 (Green, Lawson 4). Total fouls-USC19, North Carolina 14. A-19,557.

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