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Explosive Tar Heels Rally to Win Source: NYT / AP

OK – so anyone that knows me, knows I’m not really into sports.  I saw my first college basketball game a couple months ago (DUKE – NC) with my friend Kevin ( — who is a HUGE fan!  So in honor of last nights win, and dedicated to my friend, I post this on my BLOG.  NOTE:  I even added "sports" as a catagory to do this correctly. 

North Carolina 74, U.S.C. 64

Explosive Tar Heels Rally to Win

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 23 — North Carolina did not play a perfect 40 minutes, but it was not necessary. The young, gifted Tar Heels are capable of exploding at any moment, and that was what they did Friday night at the Meadowlands. Piecing together about 12 minutes of brilliant basketball, they roared back from a 16-point second-half deficit that flattened Southern California, 74-64.

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

North Carolina’s Brandan Wright blocking a shot Friday night by Southern California’s Nick Young. Wright had 13 points in the second half.

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

North Carolina’s Wayne Ellington scoring in the second half. The Tar Heels went on an 18-0 run to erase a 16-point deficit. With an 18-0 run that began with 11 minutes 2 seconds to go in the game, top-seeded North Carolina seized control and never let fifth-seeded U.S.C. back into the game. When it was over, North Carolina had a date with No. 2 seed Georgetown on Sunday in the East Regional finals.

The comeback was fueled by the freshman Brandan Wright, who had 13 second-half points. He helped pick up the slack on a night when North Carolina’s leading scorer, Tyler Hansbrough did little. Hansbrough had 5 points while playing just 29 minutes. Much of North Carolina damage came on the offensive glass. They had 20 offensive rebounds in the game, 13 of them in the second half.

The Trojans jumped out to an 18-7 lead on a 3-pointer by Nick Young with 12:41 left in the first half. North Carolina chipped away at the lead and tied the score at 26-26 with 5:36 to go on a 15-foot jumper by Wayne Ellington. But U.S.C. again took control. After Reyshawn Terry’s 3-pointer cut the U.S.C. lead to 34-33, the Trojans closed out the first half with an 8-0 run and had a 42-33 lead at the intermission.

The Trojans’ strength in the half was their shooting. They were 17 for 34 from the floor and connected on 3 of 7 3-point attempts. Taj Gibson led the way with 12 first-half points for U.S.C. The Trojans’ run continued during the opening minutes of the second half. When Lodrick Stewart connected on a 3-pointer with 17:43 to go, the Trojans had a 49-33 lead and seemed to be playing with a sense of purpose. “I think we are hungry because we weren’t expecting to be here,” the Trojans’ Gabe Pruitt said Thursday. “We came in as underdogs. I think we kind of feed off that, being the underdogs. There’s no pressure on us because no one expects us to win and we have proved people wrong.”

North Carolina’s drought, which lasted 6:46, ended when Wayne Ellington made a layup with 17:15 left. Predictably, North Carolina was not done. A Wright putback with 11:45 to go cut the Trojans’ lead to 57-49. The Tar Heels kept coming. On a tip in by Danny Green with 6:50 left, they went ahead, 60-59, for their first lead of the game since leading by 1-0 in the opening seconds. Southern California finally got back on the board when Lodrick Stewart hit a three-pointer with 6:23 left. By then, though, it was too late. The momentum had shifted in North Carolina’s favor and U.S.C. was helpless to take it back.

Terry, who has been battling strep throat, did not start for North Carolina, but entered the game midway through the first half. Normally the Tar Heels’ only senior starter, Terry came into the game averaging 9.8 points a game. With Terry out of the starting lineup, North Carolina started three freshmen and two sophomores. Wright was the leading scorer for North Carolina (31-6) with 21 points. Wayne Ellington had 12 points and Marcus Ginyard chipped in with 10 for the Tar Heels. North Carolina shot 39 percent for the game, while U.S.C. shot 42.6 percent. The Tar Heels made just 2 of 14 3-point attempts and did not have a 3-pointer in the second half.

U.S.C. (25-12) was led by Taj Gibson, who had 16 points. Not among the more highly regarded teams in the N.C.A.A. tournament and a team that takes a backseat to U.C.L.A. in its own market, Southern California did not have a bad season. For 30 minutes Friday, they may have been the best team on the court. It was the final 10 minutes, and a terrific comeback by North Carolina, that did them in rebounds

The student who wears the North Carolina mascot uniform was in critical condition Friday after being hit by a car while walking outside a hotel in Fort Lee, N.J., a few miles from the Meadowlands complex. Jason Ray, a senior from Concord, N.C., was to have performed inside the Rameses costume during Friday night’s East Regional semifinal between the Tar Heels and Southern California. The Fort Lee police said Ray was walking on the shoulder of Route 4 when he was hit by a 2006 Mercury Mountaineer driven by 51-year-old Gagik Hovsepyan of Paramus. Hovsepyan called the police and aided Ray, who was hit while returning to the Fort Lee Hilton after purchasing food at a convenience store. (AP)

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