ST. LOUIS - Finally, Roy Williams had a good reason to cry.
Stymied so many times before in his pursuit of a title, the longtime coach broke through Monday night. The tears this time were tears of joy, the result of North Carolina’s 75-70 victory over Illinois that finally gave Williams the national championship that was missing from his otherwise stellar 17-year career.
“I’m just so happy for myself, my family,” Williams said. “These seniors ... they took me for a heck of a ride.”
Sean May had 26 points and the Tar Heels didn’t allow a basket over the final, excruciating 2½ minutes.
“He is the greatest coach,” Felton said. “If he retired tomorrow, I would vote for him for the Hall of Fame. He told us he would bring us a championship and we did it as a team.”
Led by May’s 10-for-11 shooting, Carolina took a 65-55 lead with 8:51 left and it looked like Williams would win his 41st tournament game and first championship going away.
But Illinois (37-2) never quits. The Illini shot 27 percent in the first half and trailed by 13 at halftime.
They trailed by 15 early in the second and 10 a bit later. They tied the game twice in the last 5½ minutes, but when they had a chance to force overtime, Luther Head missed a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left, ending their chance to set the NCAA record for wins in a season.
“We lost our poise down the stretch in the first half,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “That probably cost us because now you have such a margin to come back.”
When it was over — after Felton had made his last two free throws, after May had cradled his 10th and final rebound — Williams took off his glasses and started looking for people to hug.
A few moments later, he was crying, much like he has at the end of every season. Usually, the tears come because he has to say goodbye. No goodbye will be as sweet as this one.
“For coach to be able to say that the first team to get him a championship was the 2005 team is an honor,” said May, whose 26 points were the same as his dad, Scott, scored in leading Indiana to the 1976 title over Michigan. “He’ll win a few more before he’s done.”
Head led Illinois with 21 points. He had a wide-open look at a 3-pointer that would have tied the game at 73, but it bounded off. Felton made the final two free throws and Weber’s magical ride with the Illini wound up one win short of the real fairytale ending he hoped for.
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
Tar Heels take it
Click to see pictures from UNC's win over Illinois in title game
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