Vitale: Tar Heels the pick

Vitale: Edge to Tar Heels

Vitale: Illini, Tar Heels earn shot at title

Vitale: Four talented teams

Vitale: Diaper dandies in Final Four

Vitale: NBA trend makes guards vital

Vitale: Carolina tradition looms large

Vitale: Incredible Final Four journey

Vitale: UNC a sum of its parts

Dick Vitale Archive

  Vitale Home     College Basketball     ESPN.com  

Tar Heels topple Illini for national title


Championship V-Recap | April 4, 2005 | NCAA Tournament coverage on ESPN.com

More from Vitale — Memories of '05 tourney will last

Congratulations to coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heels for cutting down the nets in St. Louis!

Yes, North Carolina won the national championship Monday night with a hard-fought 75-70 victory over Illinois. It is the first national title for Williams in his third national-title game as a head coach (the first two with Kansas).

Roy Williams
Roy Williams
Tar Heels junior guard Rashad McCants has been maligned often for being a player who sulks and pouts. Let me tell you, he came out strong in the first half, playing well on both ends of the court. McCants has always wanted to be a team player – and while he still pouts and sulks, it's because he wants to be perfect.

McCants played especially well in the first half Monday night, hitting 6-of-12 field goals while scoring all 14 of his points to help the Tar Heels race to a 40-27 halftime lead.

While McCants excelled in the first half, junior center Sean May took over in the second half. May dominated inside, finishing with a game-high 26 points, and he was seemingly unstoppable. May was absolutely sensational – the Illini had no answer for him on the interior.

May has a will to win – he wanted to win the title, for himself and his coach. He put the Tar Heels on his back in this game, baby! In two Final Four games, May scored 48 points and grabbed 17 rebounds.

May is the son of former Indiana All-American Scott May, who led the Hoosiers to the 1976 national championship and a perfect 32-0 record.

The younger May knows how to use his wide body, and his will to win has been contagious with his teammates. May is a classy kid who has plenty of pride. He's the kind of player a coach dreams about coaching.

For a while in the second half, it looked like the game was a battle between May and Illinois junior guard Deron Williams, who hit some big shots to keep the Illini in the game. Illinois got back into the game by hitting five of its first seven 3-point attempts in the second half (after going 5-of-19 on trifectas in the first half).

The Illini launched way too many 3-pointers, though – 40 overall! There was no balance for Illinois, with the offense exclusively on the perimeter. At any level of basketball, a balanced attack gives you a better chance to win. Of course, the fact that junior forward James Augustine got in foul trouble and eventually fouled out was a major blow.

Plus, Illinois' lack of conversions on offensive rebounds hurt the Illini cause.

A team maligned for its lack of defense, North Carolina showed good intensity in holding the Illini to 27 points in the first half. There was a defensive commitment and focus, though the critics cried about the Tar Heels' lack of D all season. Sometimes the expectations are unreal.

Sean May's will to win has been contagious with his teammates.
Give the Tar Heels lots of credit for making adjustments on defense when junior point guard Raymond Felton picked up his second foul in the first half.

Coach Bruce Weber's Illini never gave up, much like a boxer who keeps fighting, rallying from a 15-point second-half deficit to tie the game late. Included was a 10-0 run to tie the game after the Illini trailed 65-55. Then Felton hit a long 3-pointer, with two defenders on him and the score tied 65-65, to give the Tar Heels the lead.

Illinois tied the score again at 70-70 before the Tar Heels went ahead for good on a clutch tip-in by UNC freshman forward Marvin Williams with about 1:30 to go. It was a gallant effort for the Illini, but the Tar Heels were able to pull away for the W – and the school's fourth national title.

Thanks for the memories, Illinois – Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head and Co. are a bunch of tough, gutsy kids. Remember, Illinois was undefeated until the last game of the regular season. Then, in the Elite Eight, the Illini were down by 15 against Arizona and they responded to get to the Final Four.

Monday night, though, it was time for a bunch of oft-maligned Tar Heels to respond to championship pressure and earn a win they'll never forget. Congratulations to Roy Williams on his well-deserved first national championship!

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories