'Feel-good' win for Heels

CHAPEL HILL – As the final minutes ticked off the clock at the Smith Center, the North Carolina regulars sat on the bench, towels over their faces to hide the grins and laughter.

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UNC's 93-57 rout of winless North Carolina A&T had its share of highlight passes, dunks and blocks for the crowd of 14,005 – but perhaps of most importance the team had fun.

"I'm glad to have a game where we play everybody and we have some fun," head coach Matt Doherty said. "I thought our kids played really well and I'd like to think we'd beat a lot of people [playing like that]."

A total of 12 Tar Heels put points on the board, though more impressive than the scoring totals were the assists that led to the points. UNC amassed 31 assists for its 34 field goals.

"I've never seen a number like that," Doherty said. "I was just really excited about our unselfishness -- from Raymond Felton to [walk-on] Jonathan Miller."

And Felton led the passing party, rarely looking to score in recording his 11 assists, eight in the first half.

"I'm always thinking pass first," Felton said. "Before I look for my shot I'm looking to pass to my teammates to get them a great shot."

The Tar Heels (14-11) jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the opening minutes and never looked back. A 16-2 run shortly thereafter pushed the margin to 26-8 at the 9:42 mark. UNC closed the half on a 13-2 run, capped by a steal and dunk by Rashad McCants to increase the lead to 47-19 at the break.

To make matters worse for the 0-21 Aggies, they opened the second half in a 3-for-16 shooting slump, which fueled a 13-0 Tar Heel run, including two David Noel dunks, alley-oops from Jackie Manuel and Jawad Williams and two Rashad McCants threes – giving UNC their biggest lead of the game, 43 points, at 68-25.

But the two biggest showstoppers were still to come.

With 7:05 remaining in the game, Noel took a pass on a fast break from Williams and threw down a 360-degree dunk – which Tar Heel fans hadn't seen since Vince Carter's slam in the 1998 NCAA regional finals.

"I was going to rock the cradle, do a double pump or go between my legs, but I did the 360 just because it was something simple," said a modest Noel, who posted eight points, eight rebounds and four assists.

Satisfied with the evening's highlights, the fans began to head to the exists, only to miss the following play – a one-handed dunk by Will Johnson that sent both the crowd and the Carolina bench, into an uproar.

From that point the game was left to the reserves, with the end of the bench emptying after the last media timeout (and walk-on Phillip McLamb registering a quick six points).

"It's fun for everyone to get to play and for everyone to share the ball and for everyone to score," said Johnson, who had nine points -- and his first dunk since high school.

McCants finished the game with a team-high 16 points, including 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. Williams added 14 points, five boards and five assists, while Melvin Scott was the only other Tar Heel in double digits, connecting on four threes for 12 points. The oft-injured Damion Grant saw 17 minutes of playing time and contributed seven points, six rebounds and two blocks.

"It's a feel good game," Doherty said. "It's a game where some of our players should have confidence. Guys should feel good about themselves and hopefully that does help going into the stretch here – we have a tough, tough stretch."

And a trip to Maryland on Saturday starts the difficult final five games of the season, of which the Tar Heels must win at least three to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament.

"It was important for us to get back on the right track after the Clemson game," Johnson said. "We wanted to build on this game going into Maryland and I think we can do that. Maryland's an experienced, tough team vying for first place in the ACC, so they're going to be ready for us."

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