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Greensboro games create instant classics

North Carolina stages two comeback victories but falls short in finals; Duke downs Heels to take third-straight ACC Championship

GREENSOBORO, N.C.-- Virginia's improbable loss may have highlighted the ACC Tournament's first round, but its game was not the weekend's only memorable one:

Quarterfinals\nUNC 61, Miami 59\nEight minutes into Friday's quarterfinal matchup with Miami, a frustrated North Carolina coach Roy Williams pulled his entire starting lineup in favor of five walk-on players.

"I was [initially] really ticked off because you want to get in there and help your team out," freshman guard Kendall Marshall said of being benched. "Coach told us what we were doing wrong in so many words that I can't say."

Whatever Williams' words may have been, they ultimately worked. Miami owned a 16-point lead with 7:13 to play, but surrendered four three-pointers during the next two minutes. After devastating Virginia a day earlier, Friday was Miami's turn to collapse. The Tar Heels closed the game on a 27-6 run, and junior forward Tyler Zeller hit a buzzer-beating layup to give North Carolina the 61-59 win.

Semifinals\nUNC 92, Clemson 87 (OT)\nAfter using a late flurry to beat Miami, North Carolina again needed a comeback to best Clemson. Again, the Tar Heels got one.

North Carolina overcame a seven-point deficit with four minutes remaining in regulation, winning 92-87 in overtime.

It was an "unbelievable game again," Williams said. "I have no idea why we got out to such a start ... but in the second half we got more aggressive; our defense got better."

The second half also saw freshman forward Harrison Barnes take over the game. He hit a crucial three to cut Clemson's lead to two with 1:23 remaining, and then scored 14 points in overtime to earn the victory. Barnes finished with 40 points, setting a freshman ACC Tournament record.

"He's a great player, and great players make great plays," sophomore forward John Henson said. "He held it together for us at the beginning of the game and put us over the top at the end of the game."


Duke 77, Virginia Tech 63\nThe Blue Devils are the defending national champions and the team played like it against Virginia Tech Saturday, taking a 77-63 semifinal victory.

Entering the game, Duke was unsure whether star senior guard Nolan Smith could play after injuring his toe against Maryland the previous night. Smith not only started the game, but dominated it, dropping 27 points on the Hokies.

"It's very easy to come back from [the injury]," Smith said. "I'm a senior, and I just want to help my team win games. At this stage, in a semifinal game against Virginia Tech, no injury is going to hold me back from playing."

Smith's resolve proved unfortunate for Virginia Tech, as their blowout loss seemed to sour the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Despite finishing 21-11 overall and 9-7 in the ACC, the Hokies did not receive a tournament bid.

Finals\nDuke 75, UNC 58\nNorth Carolina trailed late for a third time Sunday, but unlike the Tar Heels' previous opponents, Duke would not collapse.

"We couldn't spot Duke that kind of [lead] and still come back because they're too effective," Williams said.

Duke had lost the regular season championship to the Tar Heels just eight days earlier, but came out as the definitively better team during this bout. The Blue Devils dominated the paint, jumped out to an 8-0 advantage and never trailed in the game.

"The last two weeks of the regular season we just didn't have the spirit," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We were working hard, but there wasn't a spark. It's almost like we wanted to play in March already ... It was like there was something missing, and this week we found it."

Smith found a spark, scoring 20 points and dishing 10 assists. The senior netted tournament MVP honors and joined senior forward Kyle Singler on the All-ACC first-team. "In the end when Mike took out Smith and Kyle, I stood up and clapped myself," Williams admitted. "Those are marvelous players and ... what they did was fantastic."

When Smith came out of the game with 52.4 seconds left, he and his coach jumped in the air and hugged, celebrating a 75-58 win in a tournament that is dear to Krzyzewski's heart.

It is a "privilege ... to coach in the ACC," Krzyzkewski said. "It's the best, and we try to play as hard as we can here because of the respect we have for this conference, and it paid off with a championship this time"