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Tar Heels top Rhode Island in OT, gain NIT final

North Carolina's Deon Thompson, center, is fouled by

North Carolina's Deon Thompson, center, is fouled by Rhode Island's Delroy James (21) and Stevie Mejia (1) in overtime in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden. (Mar. 30, 2010) Photo Credit: MCT

It's not the championship North Carolina had set its sights on, but the Tar Heels will take it.

The reigning NCAA champs eked out a 68-67 overtime victory against Rhode Island Tuesday night to advance to Thursday's NIT title game against Dayton at Madison Square Garden.

Deon Thompson had 16 points and 13 rebounds for the fourth-seeded Tar Heels (20-16). Will Graves added 14 points and seven rebounds and Tyler Zeller chipped in 13 points.

"If you win this tournament, you have to feel good about it," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "Now, is that your goal at the start of the season? Let's be honest. That's not our goal at the start of the season, but we put ourselves here . . . because we didn't play as well as we needed to play."

The Tar Heels didn't play well for much of Tuesday's game, either, and needed some last-second luck to escape with a win.

With North Carolina leading by a point and four seconds remaining in overtime, Tar Heels point guard Larry Drew II forced up an errant jump shot. The rebound eventually wound up in the hands of Rhode Island's Lamonte Ulmer, who inadvertently was tripped by Tar Heels forward Will Graves and fell to the ground.

No foul was called and the ball, which slipped out of Ulmer's, hands was recovered by Drew II.

"I feel badly," Williams said. "[Rhode Island coach] Jim Baron is one of the good guys . . . Something should have been called there. I don't know what. I don't know if our guy tripped over somebody else, but it looked weird and I feel badly that the game ended like that."

Baron also believed there was contact.

"We got the rebound and we were aiming to push it down the other end. I thought there was some contact and [(Ulmer] tripped. So that was a disappointing thing, just because, down the stretch, it seemed like they were getting a couple of calls."

Both teams had chances to seal a win in regulation, but neither squad fared well from the floor.

Rhode Island shot just 36.8 (25-for-68) from the field and 25 percent (5-of-20) from three-point range. North Carolina shot 34.9 percent (29-for-83) from the floor and 11.8 percent (2-of-17) from behind the arc. But the Tar Heels had the edge on the boards, outrebounding the Rams, 60-45.

Keith Cothran led the second-seeded Rams (26-10) with 23 points and eight rebounds. Ulmer finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds while teammate Delroy James had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

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