Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 3/10/12
ATLANTA --- The North Carolina Tar Heels were a shell of themselves by the time their ACC Tournament semifinal game came to an end Saturday afternoon. But the team so many once called soft again showed its toughness side in edging NC State 69-67. Carolina was without opening-night starters John Henson and Dexter Strickland and last year's top perimeter shooter Leslie McDonald, who has missed the entire season, and ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller, who had fouled out. But Justin Watts, a seldom-used senior who owns a 2009 national championship ring and an odd assortment of Tar Heels found a way to move on to the ACC title game. UNC improved to 29-4 while the Wolfpack dropped to 22-12. Here are both teams' grades for their performances Saturday afternoon: NC State offense: UNC was physical and made it tough for the Pack, but great individual efforts by Lorenzo Brown (16 points) and C.J. Leslie (22) nearly carried the Pack to a victory. State had two more points than UNC inside the paint and outscored the Heels 17-7 in fast-break points. NCSU converted 44.8 percent of its field goal attempts but just 27.3 percent from beyond the arc, getting another poor shooting effort from Scott Wood, who missed all four of his 3s. Grade: B. UNC offense: Like State, UNC made 44.4 percent of its shots from the field and was slightly worse from beyond the arc, netting just 25 percent. Carolina had better ball movement (19 assists on 24 baskets), a near-dominating effort in the paint by Zeller (23 points), and Harrison Barnes finally woke up, scoring 13 of his 16 points after the intermission. But it was Kendall Marshall's game management (12 points, 10 assists) and game-winning shot with 8 seconds left that put UNC over the hump. Grade: B NC State defense: The Wolfpack worked hard, battled, scrapped, and made UNC work for a lot of what it got. It did a nice job giving little to Barnes, who had to work extremely hard for most of his looks, and the Pack kept UNC's perimeter game in check. Fouls at the wrong time hurt, though, and put UNC at the line. Grade: C. UNC defense: Gritty for stretches, including late in the contest, and excellent in keeping Wood from going off. He got few decent looks, and Carolina knew if it could keep him from getting into a groove it had a great chance of winning. Without Henson, Carolina had no blocked shots, but it was tough physically and mentally, which helped it get the job done. Grade: C. NC State intangibles: All over the place, beginning with Mark Gottfried and the changes he implemented last spring right up through how he handled himself in the post game press conference. This team had a completely different DNA for 40 minutes Saturday than under the previous regime, and it's become a dangerous club. State handles the IQ part of the game better than earlier this season and the Pack fought its tails off. Grade: A. UNC intangibles: Senior Justin Watts personified Carolina's grit and spirit Saturday. He played the four and the point, made a key play hoisting a ball while falling out of bounds to the other end of the court, nearly milking the final second from the clock, and his toughness spread to his teammates. And overcoming not having Henson and foul trouble galore, this was a mighty impressive effort. Grade: A.
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