Now he and his team know why.
The Tar Heels took away a big chunk of the Atlantic 10 Confer- East Regional
ence's burgeoning prestige yesterday with a merciless 112-67 pounding of Rhode Island in the second round of the East Regional at Joel Memorial Coliseum.
It was a game matching two teams in powder blue with ram
mascots and pep bands that play the same fight song. There the similarity ended.
While sealing its fourth 30-win season in a proud basketball history, North Carolina (30-4) had this victory clinched before halftime and the bench kept pouring it on until the margin swelled to 51 points (110-59).
The top-seeded Tar Heels advance to the regional semifinals Friday at The Meadowlands against Arkansas, marking the 13th straight year they have reached the Sweet 16, one shy of UCLA's record.
"I was really shocked the game went the way it did," said North Carolina coach Dean Smith. "I thought it would be very close, but at halftime, essentially the game was settled."
The combination of size, bulk, depth and power blew away the Rams (19-10) in the only NCAA telecast to be shown nationwide yesterday.
Rhode Island never led and was within one point once (11-10). But Smith kept filtering in fresh hands and from a 22-16 lead, the Tar Heels went on a 21-2 blitz behind point guard Derrick Phelps and the mammoth Eric Montross to end the suspense.
"Clearly, we didn't score enough points in the first half (21 with 22.9 per cent shooting)," said Skinner. "North Carolina played a tremendous game, really got after it."
"If they're allowed to play physically throughout the rest of the tournament, they're going to do just fine," said Rams center Mike Moten.
"I'd like to see the team that's going to beat them," added teammate Andre Samuel.
Phelps said he was still uncomfortable with the padding that protects his bruised tailbone, but he didn't show it. He sank all seven of his shots and scored 15 points in 19 minutes.
Montross had 15 points and a game-high nine rebounds in 20 minutes. The Tar Heels' other 7-footers, Kevin Salvadori and Matt Wenstrom, both scored in double figures and outside shooter Donald Williams had three three-pointers and a team-high 17 points.
It was total destruction by a team that has won 13 of its last 14 games.
North Carolina rolled up 28 assists, out-rebounded the Rams, 50-34, and shot at a 56.8 per cent clip.
"I think people know we are good and can play against anybody," said Phelps. "We just hope we can keep this up and use this game as a stepping-stone. We want to raise our game each time we play."
Smith said the game was "the best we've played. But that doesn't mean we can't improve."