SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- As his North Carolina teammates took turns cutting down the nets, Syracuse Regional MVP Sean May walked over to the scorer's table and sat. He put his head down, his own piece of the net tucked behind his ear, and contemplated. He emerged, simply shaking his head.
|Sean May is two victories away from matching his father's run to a national title. (AP)|
"Almost," May said about nearly crying. "Reaching the Final Four, that's why you get up in the morning and run sprints. This is what it's all about. I was just trying to wind down and channel all my emotions."
All being the operative word. For the many thoughts he had swimming in his head, it's hard to believe he kept it together for the near hour he answered questions from the media. May was the afternoon's hero, his 29 points second-most in UNC history in a regional final.
Not only did May's performance take North Carolina to its first Final Four since 2000, it also secured his birthright. Getting to the Final Four is something his father Scott and brother Scott, Jr. accomplished at Indiana, and it meant everything to the youngest May to match them.
"I couldn't sleep last night," May said. "I just sat up looking at the sky. At one point, I got up and started pacing. It's the most nervous I've ever been over a game."
One reason for his apprehension was a phone call received around 11:15 p.m. from his father. The conversation was a short one.
"Great players help take their teams to the Final Four," Scott May told his son. "If you want to be good and do this for the rest of your life, that's what you have to do. This is your one opportunity. You have to get it done."
As if that wasn't enough pressure, coach Roy Williams made May the clear focal point against the Badgers, urging his team to look inside in an effort to take the Badgers' top scorer, senior Mike Wilkinson, out of the game. Teammate Rashad McCants told May that Wilkinson would be too small to defend him effectively and that he'd have to take the Heels to St. Louis.
It shouldn't be lost on anyone that a team with so much individual talent chose to rely on one player. But that, as McCants will tell you, is how the Tar Heels are different this year. Maturity has kicked in.
"Coach told us before the season started, 'It's amazing what can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.' That's been the most instrumental thing in our season."
May connected on his first five field-goal attempts, helping the Heels push out to a 20-11 lead. The pressure was a non-factor. Wisconsin used a flurry of 3-pointers at the tail end of the first half to tie it at 44 at the break, causing Williams to stew and demand that his team's focus be on getting the ball inside.
Despite some bumpy moments, UNC's strategy worked. May tied a season-high with 34 minutes and buried a team-high 13 of 19 shots, grabbed 12 rebounds and delivered a pair of perfect interior passes for assists down the stretch. And he held Wilkinson to just 11 points.