Tar Heels fend off Terps in ACC semi

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 16, 2013
Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock scored 15 points apiece and North Carolina held on to beat Maryland 79-76 on Saturday in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals. P.J. Hairston scored 13 points despite a heavily wrapped and injured left (non-shooting) hand for the third-seeded Tar Heels (24-9), but his 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. Next up: a meeting with No. 9 Miami, the tournament's top seed, on Sunday with North Carolina's 18th league tournament title on the line. The Hurricanes' regular-season sweep included a humiliating 26-point win last month at Miami. 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. The Terrapins trailed by 10 with just over seven minutes left before rallying to make things tight down the stretch. But every time they got too close, 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 78-76. Hairston then hit 1 of 2 free throws 1.3 seconds later. Big man James Michael McAdoo also finished with 13 points for the Tar Heels, who improved to 8-2 since inserting Hairston in the starting lineup and playing with four guards. Their only losses in that span came to a Duke team that had already been knocked out of the tournament by these Terrapins. 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. He showed some frustration when his reverse layup with about 17 minutes left rimmed out, extending and waving both arms in disbelief. A few seconds later, Bullock buried a short jumper and the Tar Heels matched their largest lead to that point, 47-35. Their largest lead came with 11:28 left when Leslie McDonald's free throw made it 58-45. 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. 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.
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