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March 1, 2006
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - David Noel's first points admittedly came on a fluke, a banked 3-pointer from near the top of the key.
Perhaps it was a sign. Nothing was going to stop North Carolina.
"It was a great night to be a Tar Heel, and there's not too many things I can be disappointed about, to say the least," coach Roy Williams said.
Noel had 19 of his career-high 26 points in the first half of the final home game of his career, Reyshawn Terry added 17 points and No. 13 North Carolina rolled past Virginia 99-54 Wednesday night.
With the victory, the Tar Heels (20-6, 11-4) clinched a tie for second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference and reached 20 victories for the 33rd time in 36 seasons. Tyler Hansbrough finished with 13 points and Marcus Ginyard scored 10 as the defending national champions won for the ninth time in 10 games.
Noel became the first North Carolina player since Phil Ford in 1978 to get his career best on Senior Night. Ford had 34 points against Duke.
"Man, it was a blast," Noel said. "I'm glad I was here for it. I got to experience it, and a lot of people don't."
This one turned into a rout early, and the final margin was the largest in the 95-year history of the rivalry. The Cavaliers (14-12, 7-8) had their final lead at 7-5 and the last of three ties came when Hansbrough converted two free throws on the ensuing possession.
That started a 20-5 run that increased the margin to 15 points, and it never fell below 12 the rest of the way.
"It got away before the jump ball," Cavaliers coach Dave Leitao said. When pressed for the reason, he added, "Not prepared."
Noel, honored after the final buzzer along with fellow seniors Byron Sanders and walk-ons Will Robinson and Thomas Wilkins, made this a memorable outing from the start. He got those three points on his second shot and continued looking for his offense, and no matter where he was on the court, his shot was falling.
Noel scored 13 more points in a 2 1/2-minute span, capped with another 3 to give the Tar Heels a 23-9 lead. All those came off assists, and North Carolina completed the first half with 14 on its 17 baskets.
"I think this team has done something that every coach wants to do, and that is gotten better as the season has gone along," Williams said. "They've put the effort and the concentration in to make that happen."
It was 49-24 at halftime before Reynolds scored four quick points, but the Cavaliers were a long way from a rally. Wes Miller swished a 3-pointer on the other end, and Terry added another when the Tar Heels got the ball back.
In between, Virginia had two shots blocked and then lost the ball out of bounds, where it wound up in Leitao's hands. He held it against his hip and briefly discussed the play with referee Roger Ayers, but even Leitao probably knew the game was lost at that point.
If not then, it was a few minutes later when Quentin Thomas had consecutive baskets to ignite a 10-2 spurt, and North Carolina led 65-32.
"We kind of got off to a slow start, it happened to us in the beginning," Reynolds said. "You can't try to come back when you're down 20 in the second half to a good team, especially when they're playing at home."
Noel reached his best point total with another 3 for an 80-43 lead, and he left a few minutes later to a rousing ovation. The other seniors got the same reaction, even Wilkins, who missed two free throws in the final seconds that would have pushed the Tar Heels over 100 points.
"It was one of those nights that sort of snowballed on Dave's team," Williams said. "Basically, everybody that came into the game gave us good lifts."
Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, Leitao couldn't say the same.
"I'm trying to draw more from these guys, but right now, they're not giving it," he said. "I don't know if fatigue is a part of it or not, physical or mental, but obviously, this is not the same team that it was a week ago."For more coverage of the North Carolina Tar Heels, check out CarolinaBlue.com.
For more coverage of the Virginia Cavaliers, check out CavsCorner.com.