North Carolina tips Maryland to reach ACC title game
Greensboro, NC, United States (4E Sports) – Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock scored 15 points apiece to lead North Carolina Tar Heels in a 79-76 win over the Maryland Terrapins Saturday in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals.
P.J. Hairston and big man James Michael McAdoo added 13 points each for the third-seeded Tar Heels (24-9).
The third-seeded Tar Heels led 47-35 after Bullock buried a short jumper. Their largest lead came with 11:28 left when Leslie McDonald’s free throw made it 58-45.
The Terrapins trailed by 10 with just over 7 minutes left before rallying to make things tight down the stretch.
But every time they closed in, North Carolina had an answer.
Twice in the final three minutes, freshman guard Marcus Paige followed a Maryland basket by hitting a clutch shot of his own.
His jumper with 2:49 left came after Len cut the Tar Heels’ lead to 71-70. And after Dez Wells hit a layup to pull the Terps to 75-72 with 1:08 left, Paige drove the baseline for a pretty layup that put North Carolina back up by five with 36.5 seconds left.
He and Wells traded free throws in a 3-second span, and Aronhalt’s stickback with 17.3 seconds left pulled Maryland to within 78-76. Hairston then hit 1 of 2 free throws 1.3 seconds later.
The missed free throw with 16 seconds left gave Maryland a chance to force overtime.
The Terps called time out with 10.9 seconds left, and Logan Aronhalt took the inbounds pass and immediately launched an off-balance 30-foot airball.
Bullock snatched the ball and passed to Hairston, who was all alone near midcourt, and the Tar Heels ran out the clock to clinch their league-record 32nd appearance in the title game.
Hairston finished 3 of 10 and was 2 of 8 behind the 3-point line in 36 minutes — but that he even played at all was remarkable.
He needed eight stitches to close a wound that split the night before against Florida State when the ball jammed between his fingers.
Hairston sustained a cut between the middle and ring fingers on his left (non-shooting) hand when an FSU player was trying to grab a steal.
He was a game-time decision but warmed up — and started — with the two fingers bound together with a splint and tape covering most of his hand, and he showed no obvious signs of discomfort.
North Carolina improved to 8-2 since inserting Hairston in the starting lineup and playing with four guards and gave it the right to face No. 9 Miami in the ACC title game.
Alex Len had 20 points to lead seventh-seeded Maryland (22-12), which knocked off No. 2 Duke less than 24 hours earlier in the quarterfinals and nearly pulled off another upset.
Nick Faust added 17 points with five 3-pointers for Maryland while Wells — the Xavier transfer who emerged as a leading tournament MVP candidate while averaging 25.5 points in wins over Wake Forest and Duke — finished with 15 on 6-of-15 shooting.