CHAPEL HILL, JULY 22 -- Whether they were inspired by the 21,203 sons and daughters of the South who came to root against them or by their previous loss to the South team or just the old-fashioned desire to win, the North put together an 88-73 victory over the South tonight to win the U.S. Olympic Festival gold medal in men's basketball.

Following a 20-20 tie with 8:12 left in the first half, the North outscored the South, 22-8, for a 42-28 halftime lead and was never seriously challenged after that.

J.R. Reid of the South team led all scorers with 18 points, while Terry Mills, who sat out this season at the University of Michigan because he failed to meet Proposition 48 requirements, led the North with 15. The two big men were the most-sought-after high school players two years ago, but their matchup tonight ended after Mills quickly picked up three fouls.

The South had been 3-0 in preliminary-round play, including a 75-66 win over the North.

The East team, coached by Lefty Driesell, left the festival without a medal, losing this afternoon's bronze-medal contest to the West, 91-86. Pepperdine's Tom Lewis, who led all scorers with 17 points, helped the West in a 10-0 run that gave it a 69-64 lead with 11:18 left. The East stayed close but never led again. By winning, the West avenged a 100-82 loss to the East in the preliminary round.

Although he wasn't happy with the silver, Reid said he enjoyed playing in the festival after the disappointment of not making the Pan American Games team.

"Denny Crum {Louisville and Pan American Games coach} had to pick a team; not the 12 best guys, but a group that would blend together," Reid said. "I was upset at first, but I have a lifetime of basketball. I played in front of my home fans here, so I was happy."

South Coach Eddie Sutton said Reid should have been on the Pan American Games team.

"If there's 12 better players than him, I don't know anything about basketball," Sutton said.

Earlier in the day, Georgetown Coach John Thompson, who will coach the 1988 Olympic team, praised Reid for playing in the festival after the disappointment of not being picked to play in Indianapolis.

"I'm impressed with the fact that J.R. came here," said Thompson, who handed out the medals tonight. "Attitude is extremely important in international competition. The players are in an isolated situation, doing a lot of repetitions and in situations they're not accustomed to."

Thompson addressed several Olympic-related issues in his morning press conference.

Without saying Navy Ensign David Robinson already has a place on the squad, Thompson said it would be difficult to imagine Robinson not making the team.

"It would be hard," Thompson said when asked if there was any way Robinson could play himself off the squad. "He would have to work pretty damn hard at it. David Robinson is an outstanding player and I'd love to have him around -- that's no secret -- but not at all costs."

Robinson will play for the United States in the Pan American Games, but he will not have a team to play for during the normal 1987-88 season. And Thompson subtly suggested that it wouldn't be a good idea for Robinson to sit around and do nothing but eat Navy chow.

"Was it Terry Mills who said he went from 205 to 235 lifting weights?," Thompson asked. "I need to find that set of weights. It's something to be concerned about, and it will be to David's advantage to participate as much as he can. He projects the kind of personality you like to have. But it will also be an advantage to David because of the level of competition he'll have to face in the NBA. Sugar Ray {Leonard} was the exception, not the rule."

Robinson, who graduated from the Naval Academy in May, is now stationed at the Kings Bay submarine base in Georgia. He has a two-year active duty commitment to the Navy and then four in the reserves. In April, Navy Secretary James Webb said Robinson would not be allowed to play professionally during his two years of active duty. Robinson has said he would have preferred to have a choice.

"I didn't feel bad," Thompson said of the decision, adding that he hasn't yet spoken with Robinson.

"I felt that the young man was under a lot of strain in making decisions and I didn't feel it would be right for me to go in and start lobbying for the Olympics," Thompson said. "And he was trying to graduate and you just don't walk out of the Naval Academy {with a diploma}."

Without saying where he wanted to hold the Olympic trials, Thompson said he hoped to conduct them in May of 1988 and later to go on tour, "playing as many games as we can."

"I'll probably do what's been done before," Thompson said. "I'd like to have an opportunity to play NBA teams, but also I'd like to play against teams that have been together and have structure. It's a lot different playing against an all-star team and playing one that's structured."

An example of a structured team?

"Georgetown," Thompson said.

"I would like to play the way we do at Georgetown," Thompson said. "I don't know any other way. We've got to press and be aggressive defensively because those teams have people that can shoot. We don't have the physical maturity, in some cases, that these other teams have. It's important to get a group that really likes to work hard and play defense. Quickness is very important and perimeter defense is very important."

The Summer Olympics run from Sept. 17 to Oct. 2, which Thompson said poses considerable concern and could play a large part in the selection process. Most schools begin class in August or early September, which would mean that any player who was returning to school would have to miss much of the first semester. Frequently, athletes in other sports drop out of school for the semester before the Olympics. But if they drop out, will those players be able to play during the fall after the Olympics?

"There have been several situations where young people have been criticized for missing school," Thompson said. "How about missing school for you're country? Is it all right?"