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Heels Are ACC Champions: UNC 61 Virginia 57

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

UNC fought tooth and nail with Virginia putting on a defensive clinic before dropping the hammer late in the second half to secure UNC's 18th ACC Championship 61-57.

It was everything you thought it would be with two elite teams slugging it out in a heavyweight fight for the ACC crown. For much of the first half UNC was able to hit shots but eight first half turnovers and a turnover rate that crept into the low 40s decimated the Tar Heel offensive efficiency.  Joel Berry and Brice Johnson again became the dynamic duo with eight first half points. Johnson also added three assists passing out of Cavalier double teams.  Marcus Paige's three point shot was off once again but what he didn't hit in threes he more than made up with on the defensive end. Despite giving up size to ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, Paige locked in and held the senior to 4-13 shooting and 10 points in the first half. The game went to the half fittingly tied at 28-28.

In the second half, UNC endured two early turnovers and Virginia managed to once again grabbed the lead. Kennedy Meeks had trouble checking Anthony Gill and the latter used his quickness to hit back-to-back baskets for a quick 32-28 lead. UNC continued to battle with Paige eschewing the three point shot for drives into the lane. Paige scored seven straight points to keep the Tar Heel to put UNC ahead 40-39 with 12:11 left.

Virginia responded, reeling off five straight points to take yet another four point lead as the clock ticked under 10 minutes left in the game. What came next was big boy basketball from the Tar Heels. Over the next five minutes, UNC put together a 13-2 run with stifling defense and big shot after big shot. Justin Jackson generally awful night found some redemption with an offensive rebound and putback to push the Tar Heel to four. After a pair of Gill free throws, Berry nailed a three off a pass from Meeks to pull ahead by five. Jackson stepped into a passing lane to pick off a Cavalier pass and dunk it on the other end to give UNC a seven point edge with less than four minutes left.

Brice Johnson ended a string of empty possession by both teams to put the Tar Heels up nine on a tough offensive rebound and putback.  Virginia wasn't quite done. Brogdon and Evan Nolte hit a threes to cut the UNC lead to 55-52 with 57 seconds left. It was Isaiah Hicks turn to make the big basket, hitting a shot in front of the rim to go up 57-52/ Berry closed out the game with four straight free throws to crown the Tar Heels 2016 ACC Champions.

Joel Berry lead UNC with 19 points going 3-3 from three and 6-6 at the line. Berry averaged 17.0 ppg over three ACC Tournament games and was named the MVP for the event. Marcus Paige had 13 points including seven during a critical stretch in the second half however the most important stat to describe Paige's impact was on the other side of the box score. He held ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to just 15 points on 6-22 shooting and 2-9 from three. Johnson also hit double figures with 12 points to go with nine rebounds. His offensive rebound in traffic of his own miss to get a putback put the Heels up nine with 1:45 left.

UNC moves to 28-6 overall and should be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament when the field is announced on Sunday evening.