SYRACUSE, N.Y. - North Carolina won without Raymond Felton - barely.
After the star point guard fouled out, the top-seeded Tar Heels did just enough down the stretch to hold off Villanova 67-66 last night, advancing to the regional finals for the first time since 2000.
The Wildcats missed a chance to tie it in the final seconds when Allan Ray was called for traveling on a drive. He made the shot as he was slapped across the arm, but referee Tom O'Neill already had blown his whistle for the violation.
Villanova (24-8) was forced to foul, and Rashad McCants made a free throw with 7.6 seconds left to increase the Tar Heels' margin to four. Kyle Lowry rattled in a 3-pointer about five seconds later to bring the Wildcats to 67-66, and he chased down Sean May's errant inbounds pass just before the buzzer.
But his desperation heave was wide, letting North Carolina (30-4) move on to play Wisconsin in the Syracuse Regional final. Debris was thrown on the court after the frantic finish, but order quickly was restored.
McCants had 15 of his 17 points in the second half and Marvin Williams scored 16 for the Tar Heels. Felton finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists before fouling out for the first time this season.
He missed the season opener with a one-game suspension for playing in an unsanctioned summer league game, and the Tar Heels promptly lost to Santa Clara. With Felton on the court, they have looked downright unbeatable at times, but they couldn't rely on him against Villanova.
Randy Foye led the Wildcats with a career-high 28 points. Lowry also set his career best with 18 points.
Villanova was in the game the whole way despite not having Curtis Sumpter, a 6-7 forward who was the second-leading scorer for the Wildcats. Sumpter tore a knee ligament last Sunday in the first half of a victory over Florida in the second round.
With Foye leading the way, Villanova jumped to a commanding lead in the first half. He scored 11 points in the opening 4 1/2 minutes - most with a defender right in his face - and his 3 with about six minutes left before halftime made it 30-19.
He cooled off, and North Carolina rallied behind McCants, who ditched a new pair of shoes during the break and got his game back, too. Held to two points in the first half, he immediately took over when Felton went out following his fourth foul.
McCants swished a jumper from beyond the arc about 60 seconds later to give the Tar Heels the lead for good, and on three of the next four possessions, he drew fouls and converted both free throws each time to make it 61-50.
The Wildcats didn't quit and got within 66-63 setting up the final seconds.