UNC 79 Maryland 76

USA TODAY Sports

Despite being in control most of the game, UNC staves off a late Maryland rally to advance to a third straight ACC Championship game.

That was probably harder than it had to be but in postseason play it doesn't matter as long as you win the game. The Heels came out and played well for the most part riding 11 first half points from Dexter Strickland who uncharacteristically hit four long jump shots and nine points from P.J. Hairston to take a five point lead into the locker room.

In the second half, the Heels asserted control of the game moving out to a 13 point lead with 11 minutes left and seemingly cruising towards a fairly easy win. Then a rash of foul trouble which saw Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo go to the bench leaving UNC working with several odd lineups on the floor. Maryland took advantage and got within three before UNC pushed it back out to eight. However too many empty UNC empty trips including Hairston going cold from three and Strickland missing jumpers on back-to-back possessions helped the Terps draw to 71-70 with 3:20 left.

Enter Marcus Paige and Reggie Bullock. Paige, playing with four fouls, hit a short jumper to push the Tar Heel lead back to three. Bullock then made an outstanding defensive play to setup two McAdoo free throws which he(surprisingly) made. Following a Maryland basket, it was Paige again who drove to the baseline and tossed up a runner over the outstretched arms of seven footer Alex Len to keep the Tar Heel lead at five. After that UNC did struggle a bit with crucial free throws as Paige and Hairston went 2-4 setting up a last gasp for the Terps. The last gasp ended up being more of a death gurgle as the Terps Logan Aronholt chucked an airball from 30-feet out and the Heels ran the clock out for the win.

So, while we all would have preferred some form of maintaining the double-digit lead and leaving with an easy win, UNC did respond effectively enough to the Maryland challenge. A lot of credit goes to Paige and Bullock who kept making plays down the stretch and Leslie McDonald who nailed a big three late. Bullock and Strickland led the Heels with 15 points with McAdoo and Hairston scoring 13. Paige only had eight but four of those were clutch given the situation and unlike two weeks ago in College Park, the freshman only had one turnover.

Now the Heels will see Miami for the third time this season and try to do what they could not in two previous attempts. It will be a de facto home game for UNC and Miami has not faced the Heels' smaller lineup. It will take a huge effort from everyone to overcome the Hurricans backcourt and deal with their size on the interior. That being said, UNC is playing with house money to some extent here so if the worse thing that happens is UNC loses a competitive game, I am not sure I would even be that upset.

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