URGENT North Carolina 75, Cincinnati 68 OT
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ A dunk didn’t do the trick in regulation so North Carolina went to the 3- pointer in overtime and advanced to the Final Four for the ninth time under coach Dean Smith.
The top-seeded Tar Heels (32-4) had a chance to beat second-seeded Cincinnati (27-5) at the regulation buzzer Sunday, but Brian Reese missed a dunk after taking an inbounds pass with .8 seconds to play.
Once the overtime started, Donald Williams took care of things from beyond 19 feet, 9 inches, making consecutive 3-pointers as North Carolina beat the Bearcats 75-68 and kept them from returning to the Final Four.
North Carolina will meet Kansas, the Midwest’s second seed which beat top- ranked Indiana 83-77 Saturday, in the national semifinals next Saturday in New Orleans. That is a rematch of the 1991 semifinals when Roy Williams, Smith’s long-time assistant beat the Tar Heels when Smith was ejected late in the game.
The Tar Heels were in trouble in the first half when Cincinnati guard Nick Van Exel snapped out of a tournament-long shooting slump with 21 points, all but three on 3-point field goals. The Bearcats led by as many as 15 points in the opening 20 minutes. But the Tar Heels rallied to take a lead late in the half and then clamped down on Van Exel, holding him to two points after halftime.
Williams, North Carolina’s only legitimate perimeter threat, finished with 20 points, but the big six came on the overtime 3-pointers, which gave the Tar Heels a 74-68 lead with 1:53 to play.
Smith, the winningest coach in NCAA tournament history with a 53-23 record, has won just one national championship - 1982 in New Orleans, when freshman Michael Jordan hit his famous jumper.
The Tar Heels had a chance of winning in regulation, but Reese missed a dunk as the buzzer sounded. Television replays showed that it would have been too late, but referee Jody Silvester said the basket would have counted if it had gone in.
Cincinnati tied the game 66-66 with 36 seconds to play when Tarrance Gibson went the length of the court with a loose ball after North Carolina was charged with a 45-second shot clock violation.
George Lynch missed a turnaround jumper with two seconds left and the ball went out of bounds to North Carolina, setting up the play that Reese failed to finish.
Cincinnati took a quick lead in overtime, but Lynch tied it and the Bearcats missed their last eight shots from the field, and Williams started hitting his shots.
Lynch finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds for the Tar Heels.
Van Exel, who entered the game shooting 10 for 41 from the field, finished 8 for 24 after going 7 for 14 in the first half.
Erik Martin added 16 points for Cincinnati.
With Van Exel in control, the Bearcats took a 29-14 lead with 7:09 left in the half on his fifth 3-pointer of the game. His sixth and last of the first half came from NBA distance and it gave Cincinnati a 33-20 lead with 4:50 to play.
North Carolina then clamped down on Van Exel and took advantage of a serious shooting drought by the rest of the Bearcats to take a 36-35 lead 37 seconds before halftime. Montross started the run by scoring on a dunk and a layup after a lob, but the rest of the rally was without the 7-foot junior, who was poked near the eye with 2:54 left in the half.
The Tar Heels scored the next 12 points to take their first lead since 5-2, but it was short-lived when Terry Nelson hit a foul line jumper with two seconds left to give the Bearcats a 37-36 halftime lead.