UNC sends Terps out of ACC Tournament
No. 3-seed North Carolina (24-9, 12-6) edged No. 7-seed Maryland (22-12, 8-10) 79-76 in a back-and-forth battle that came down to a missed three-pointer by Maryland's Logan Aronhalt with 0:10 left that would have tied the game.
The Tar Heels got off to a hot start and led 24-12 at the 8:05 mark. Maryland stormed back though and went on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to two points. Every time the Tar Heels threatened to pull away, Maryland wouldn’t let them.
UNC led by 13 with 11:28 to go on two Leslie McDonald free throws, but Maryland went on a 12-2 run to cut UNC’s lead to three points, and it was a back-and-forth game most of the rest of the way. Paige picked up his fourth foul with 10:06 to go and things looked dicey for the Heels after that.
But Paige was put back in at the 3:40 mark and had four of his eight points in the final 2:50, including a floater in the lane over Maryland’s seven-footer Alex Len that gave Carolina a five-point lead with 36 seconds to go.
“There were two or three times they made big runs at us and we had enough in the tank to come back at them,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “It was huge for us.”
UNC would hit 2-of-4 free throws down the stretch as Maryland inched closer, and the Terrapins had the ball and were within three points with 11 seconds to go. Aronhalt took a three-pointer as soon as he touched the ball on the in-bounds play, and UNC was able to play keep-away with it long enough for the clock to expire.
Reggie Bullock, who had a number of key three-pointers down the stretch, finished with 15 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Dexter Strickland had 11 of his 15 points in the first half, while James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston, who received eight stitches after slicing open the webbing between two of his fingers last night, added 13 points each.
For Maryland, Len had a game-high 20 points (including making 10-of-12 free throws) and Nick Faust added 17 points. Dez Wells, who had a career-high 30 in Maryland’s win over Duke last night, had just 15 points.
After the way this season began for UNC, few thought it could end up in position to win an ACC title. But here it is. It’s been 15 years since North Carolina won an ACC Tournament title in the Greensboro Coliseum. North Carolina hasn’t won the ACC Tournament at all since 2008 and it's made the championship game for three straight seasons.
"We’ve had some ups and downs this year and we went through a period where we struggled and a lot of people kind of doubted us,” Paige said. “But the great thing about its that we stuck together as a team, and we finally started getting things clicking.”
If there’s a problem, it is that UNC will face the No. 1 seed, Miami (26-6, 15-3). Miami will be in its first ACC Tournament championship game ever and looks to win its first game against North Carolina in the ACC Tournament since joining the ACC in 2004-05.
But Miami beat UNC by a combined 35 points in two meetings this year, including a 26-point beating at Miami that spawned UNC’s change to a smaller lineup.
Once UNC switched to the smaller lineup, it nearly beat Duke on the road and then won six straight games. The Tar Heels have won eight of their last 10 with the two losses coming to Duke.
When asked what his team could do differently against Miami, Williams had one answer. “Play better,” he said. “Make some shots.”
That would be a start.