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Rapid Reaction: North Carolina 61, Miami 59

3/11/2011

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Kendall Marshall has changed North Carolina into a national contender with his play at the point over the last month.

Friday, he gave Roy Williams and the Tar Heel Nation another reason to believe that Marshall can lead the Tar Heels to a Final Four.

Marshall drove to the hoop in the final seconds, dishing off to Tyler Zeller for a layup at the buzzer to beat Miami 61-59 in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.

North Carolina was down 19 points in the second half before mounting an impressive comeback led by the shooting and playmaking of Marshall and the 3-point shooting of Harrison Barnes.

The win over the Hurricanes keeps the Tar Heels in contention for a possible No. 1 seed.

Turning point: There were plenty during North Carolina’s comeback, but the final decisive play came when the Hurricanes lost the ball out of bounds with 18.6 seconds left and the game tied at 59. Miami was showing good patience working the ball around, but Adrian Thomas couldn’t handle a pass and the ball went off his hands. That gave North Carolina a chance to end the game on its own terms. Miami was still not in the penalty and had to foul Marshall twice to get into the bonus and managed to take some time off the clock. But then the Hurricanes didn’t want to foul Marshall on his final drive to the hoop.

Key player: Marshall, who finished with 10 assists. He also hit a pair of 3s during the Tar Heels’ comeback. Barnes led the Tar Heels with 18 points, but it was his four 3s that were the difference. Zeller had a couple of key buckets in the low post in the second half and the most important one, of course, was the last one.

Key stat: The Tar Heels dominated the backboard, beating the Canes 38-25 and keeping plenty of possessions alive. North Carolina gave itself plenty of chances within possessions and it showed.

Miscellaneous: North Carolina has always dominated the crowd whenever the ACC tournament is in Greensboro, N.C., and Friday was no exception. Make no mistake: Miami was playing a road game. It may not count as one, but it was hardly a neutral site.

What’s next: North Carolina moves on to the semifinals. Miami is a postseason team; the question is in which tournament. If I’m on the NIT selection committee, I take a strong look at the Canes.