ST. LOUIS, April 4 -- When Luther Head's three-point attempt fell short, the ball landed in the hands of the player who carried North Carolina during its most tense moments this month.
Sean May celebrated his 21st birthday Monday by leading his Tar Heels to a national championship 29 years after his father, Scott, did the same with Indiana. The younger May was an unyielding force Monday, scoring 26 points -- matching his father's total in the 1976 final -- while missing only 1 of 11 field goal attempts.
May received a DVD of his father's 1976 national championship game victory for Christmas and watched it three times in the past two days.
"This celebration is a lot better than the 1976 celebration," May said. "This is my celebration and my team."
Late Monday, following North Carolina's 75-70 victory over Illinois, May had reason to party, winning the Final Four's most outstanding player award and helping to capture the school's first national title since 1993.
Added North Carolina Coach Roy Williams: "You know who it is going to be most gratifying for? His father."
Before the game, Scott May told his son that he had worked hard for this moment in three seasons of college basketball, adding: "I love you. I'm proud of you. Go get it done."
May was dominant Monday, particularly in the second half, when he scored 18 of his game-high 26 points. He also grabbed 10 rebounds, concluding a superb two-game Final Four showcase.
In the national semifinal against Michigan State, May made 7 of 10 shots in the second half, scoring 18 of his team-high 22 points after halftime. As a result, North Carolina rallied from a five-point halftime deficit to rout the Spartans, 87-71.
May was kind this weekend, saying that Illinois big men James Augustine and Roger Powell Jr. were "good defenders." In truth, neither had the ability to match May.
Afterward Illinois Coach Bruce Weber acknowledged, "They had more of an inside threat with May than we had."
May broke his left foot during his freshman year and played in just 11 games. Williams has said that if May had not broken his foot, Matt Doherty, who was forced to resign following that season, would probably still be coaching in Chapel Hill.
A presence like May is that rare and valuable in today's era of college basketball. When Illinois made its run in the second half, North Carolina, a team that comprises as many as five future NBA players, turned to May, again and again.
On six straight possessions, the Tar Heels fed May the ball in the post.
During one stretch, May scored 10 of North Carolina's 13 points, turning a two-point advantage into a 10-point lead.
When asked whether Williams had given the guards an order to feed May or whether they merely read each situation, point guard Raymond Felton said: "Both. He [May] was just killing. Why wouldn't I get it in to him? Everyone was screaming to get the ball in to him."
Weeks ago, Williams met with the team and detailed the upcoming dates for each round of the NCAA tournament. When told the national championship game fell on April 4, May told Williams that it would be a special day.
"I won't forget this until the day I die," May said. "This is the best moment I've had in my whole life."