It was anything but a work of art, but North Carolina gutted out a tough semifinal win against rival, N.C. State on Saturday, 69-67. They will move on to face Florida State in the Championship Game on Sunday.
Carolina entered the game with starter John Henson in street clothes and the Wolfpack took full advantage of his absence scoring at the rim, and holding their own on the boards. C.J. Leslie thrived scoring 22 points in the game.
The game itself turned into a foul infested, grinder with it's share of controversial calls. North Carolina did not help it's own cause with questionable shot selection, turnovers and did not make the best use of the clock down the stretch. Coach Williams may have summed it up best, "Right now, we feel very fortunate to say the least...If you want to put lucky in there, you can say that as well."
As it turned out, the game came down to a Kendall Marshall bank shot with 10 seconds left followed by a couple of defensive stops. One of the stops was a long pass into the lane to Richard Howell with a second left in the game. Howell could not get a shot off and was furious that a foul was not called. He had to be restrained as he went in the direction of an official.
Earlier, two quick calls on C.J. Leslie sent him to the bench with his 5th foul. Some felt that Marshall should have been called for an offensive call on his game winning banker, but there was no call.
Give credit to North Carolina for finding a way to win despite a mistake filled effort and give the Wolfpack credit for a lot of Carolina's headaches, playing very strong defense and playing very physical in the paint.
Once again it was ACC Player of the Year, Tyler Zeller who led the Tar Heels with 23 points and 9 rebounds before fouling out. After a slow start, Harrison Barnes finished with 16 points. Once again, Marshall came up big with 12 points and 10 assists.
Starting in place of Henson, James Michael McAdoo came up with 9 points and 2 rebounds but only played 27 minutes, saddled with foul trouble.
Without Henson, the Tar Heels were out rebounded by a 33-31 margin. Henson's status remains questionable going into the Championship Game on Sunday.
Most feel like N.C. State has done enough to get into the big dance and with Kansas and Duke both losing in their tournament, it is likely North Carolina will be a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament despite the outcome of Sunday's game.
Game time will be 1pm on Sunday from Phillips Arena in Atlanta as the 29-4 Tar Heels look for their 30th victory and a chance to win both the regular season title and the ACC Tournament Championship.