March 12, 2005
By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON – Rashad McCants followed his North Carolina teammates through the tunnel toward the locker room, wearing a stunned look while biting the front of his white jersey.
The second-ranked Tar Heels had just lost 78-75 to Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals Saturday after McCants missed a 3-pointer that would have forced overtime.
The North Carolina guard let out a groan and let the jersey fall from his teeth.
“You know,” he said with a sigh, “that was supposed to go in.”
The top-seeded Tar Heels were supposed to win their first ACC title since 1998, but that didn’t happen, either.
Will Bynum scored a career-high 35 points, and the fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets advanced to the ACC championship game with a stunning upset of the league’s regular-season champions.
Did somebody say upset?
“This was no upset out here today. I want to make that point clear,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. “These are two great teams, and our team, being a team that I think has accomplished a lot at big moments…to be written off was kind of amusing to me.”
After Bynum capped his magnificent performance by making two foul shots with nine seconds left, McCants’ 3-point try bounced off the front of the rim and into the waiting arms of Tech’s Jarrett Jack, who clutched the ball until time expired.
The Yellow Jackets celebrated, but with a good measure of restraint.
“It’s not a surprise, it’s not a shock to us,” Jack said. “We knew we could come in here and compete with any team in our conference, as well as any team in the country.”
Thanks to Bynum, whose 35 points is the most by a Georgia Tech player in the ACC tournament, surpassing the 33 by Mark Price against Virginia in 1983.
“It was big, but I would rather have scored two and won anyway,” a teary-eyed Bynum said at the post-game news conference. “As long as we get the win, that’s what counts,” .
At that point, Hewitt interjected, “It was fun watching the 35, I’ll tell you.”
Georgia Tech, which lost to North Carolina by 22 during the regular season, will play for the league title Sunday against the winner of the Duke-North Carolina State game.
The Yellow Jackets (19-10) will compete in the championship game for the first time since 1996 and will be seeking their first ACC crown in 12 years.
North Carolina (27-4) will head home after finishing alone atop the regular-season standings for the first time since 1993. No team has won more ACC titles than the Tar Heels (15), but North Carolina has now gone seven years without one.
“I think we got fat and happy. We just didn’t get the job done,” said center Sean May, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds. “The good thing is we have a few days before the NCAA tournament to get things going again.”
The Tar Heels will likely be a No. 1 seed in that tournament, too.
McCants and Raymond Felon had 17 points apiece for North Carolina, which came in with an eight-game winning streak.
Luke Schenscher had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Georgia Tech, which lost in the second round of the ACC tournament last year but advanced to the national championship game. Their success this weekend has assured the Yellow Jackets of a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
“We still think of ourselves as one of the best teams in the nation,” Schenscher said. “We wanted to come out here and prove it in the tournament. We’re doing that so far.”
Down 42-36 at the break, North Carolina rode the play of the suddenly aggressive May to get back into it. The 6-foot-9 center opened the second half with a follow after battling the 7-1 Schenscher under the basket, then added a layup and jumper off the glass during a 9-4 spurt that got the Tar Heels to 46-45.
Minutes later, May made a tip-in and a 5-foot hook shot to put North Carolina up 51-50, its first lead since 18-17. Bynum then scored 11 of Tech’s next 15 points to make it 65-60, and the Yellow Jackets maintained their tenuous lead to the finish.
Bynum, who scored 23 in the second half, finished 10-for-21 from the field and 10-for-12 at the line. He also made half his 10 attempts from beyond the 3-point line.
“Once I made my first 3, I pretty much felt good the rest of the way,” he said. “It opened for me driving to the hole.”
There were three ties and three lead changes in the opening seven minutes, a strong indication that this would be a closer game than when the teams met in January. On that day, North Carolina built a 16-point halftime lead and cruised to a 91-69 victory.
The rematch was no mismatch.