GREENSBORO, N.C. - Melvin Scott's first two seasons at North Carolina had been filled with frustration. Last year it came from playing on an 8-20 team. This season it stemmed from losing playing time to freshman point guard Raymond Felton.
To make matters worse, Scott heard from all his friends back in Baltimore who told him he had made a mistake in becoming a Tar Heel rather than a Maryland Terrapin. When the Terps won the national championship last season, Scott began to second-guess himself.
Many of those doubts were erased last night in the course of seventh-seeded North Carolina's 84-72 upset of second-seeded Maryland in the quarterfinals of the 50th Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum.
In his best performance since leaving Southern High School, Scott finished with a career-high 19 points in 35 minutes, making five of seven three-point shots and grabbing four rebounds. After four straight defeats to the Terps, including a 40-point loss in College Park last month, the win was special for Scott.
"When Maryland beats you, in the back of my head I'm thinking, 'Maybe I should have gone to Maryland,' " Scott said in the dressing room after the game. "Carolina was my dream school. To win against Maryland will silence all my critics back home. I made my decision and I've got to live with it."
It might also silence the whispers that Scott is considering transferring after this season. They have followed Scott for most of his sophomore year as his playing time decreased and his confidence diminished.
"Basketball has never been this frustrating for me," said Scott. "I've been asked to sit on the bench, play behind other guys, it's something I've never done in my life. I think it's going to make me stronger as a person and as an athlete. Tonight, I got an opportunity in a big game and I stepped up to the plate."
Scott's first shot hit nothing but net.
"When I hit my first one, I thought I was going to hit all of them," said Scott. "I'm just a confident shooter. If I get good looks, I'm going to take them. My team believes in it, and that gives me even more confidence. This will give me a lot of confidence with one of the biggest wins of my career."
Scott's performance came on a night when the already undermanned and undersized Tar Heels lost starting guard Jackie Manuel after only four minutes with a bruised foot. At halftime, North Carolina coach Matt Doherty told Scott he would start the second half.
"When he told me I was starting, I got the jitters," Scott recalled.
It didn't show. After scoring six points in the first half on 2-for-4 shooting, Scott scored 13 points in the second half. He made three of his four shots in the second half and four of six free throws. Two of the free throws came after Scott chased down a loose ball and was fouled.
"He was awesome," said freshman forward Rashad McCants. "He was given the opportunity and he really exploited it."
The North Carolina coaching staff that had waited two years for this type of game from Scott knew how much it meant to both the player and the team.
"It's hard for a young man to be starting last year and then have to come off the bench," said Doherty. "It was frustrating for him for awhile, but I thought the last several weeks his frame of mind has been really good. He's made some big shots for us."
Scott wasn't going to get carried away because of one big game.
"I just want to be humble, but I know I can play basketball," he said. "It's a matter of waiting and being patient. This year taught me a lot about being patient. My chance came tonight, and I took advantage of it."