GREENSBORO, N.C. -- This North Carolina team has a blueprint for how to win in the postseason -- tease the competition into thinking it can win and then come back and snatch the victory away from the upstart team just when it appears over.
North Carolina was down 19 to Miami during Friday’s quarterfinal game, then beat the Hurricanes on a last-second layup by Tyler Zeller.
Well, Clemson held control of the game for the first 20 minutes, leading the Tar Heels by 10 at the half. North Carolina took a brief lead midway through the second half, but Clemson held tough and led by five with two minutes remaining.
Once again, that was a big tease. Harrison Barnes buried a 3-pointer to cut the lead to two, then Zeller connected on a post-up move with 32 seconds left to tie the game. The Tar Heels did an outstanding job on Demontez Stitt to prevent him from getting off a shot to win the game.
UNC controlled the first part of the overtime, racing out to a nine-point lead as Barnes continued to be the untouchable. Clemson made a valiant attempt, but was never in a position to go for a win.
North Carolina won 92-87 in overtime and Clemson continues to be a team that suffers at the hands of the Tar Heels, unable to beat this team outside of Clemson, S.C.
Star of the game: North Carolina freshman Barnes. He was a preseason first-team AP All-American and was much-maligned early in the season. Well, he’s living up to the hype now. He was sensational in scoring 40 points and making every big shot when the game was in question. Barnes was able to separate the Tar Heels, whether it was in making a shot or converting at the free-throw line by making 10 of 11 shots.
Key stat: North Carolina gets to the free-throw line because of its length, and in this case because it protects the ball late in the game. The Tar Heels made 24 of 34 while Clemson was just 9 of 16.
Turning point: The last few possessions of regulation showed once again while Carolina will be a tough out. There are options, and plenty of them. Barnes made a 3. Kendall Marshall made a 3. Barnes scored off the offensive glass. John Henson can disrupt things. And then Zeller scores in the low post. Clemson got the game to overtime, but only because UNC ran out of time.
Up next: UNC is off to the ACC title game and a likely No. 2 seed. Clemson is safely in the field. Seeding to be determined.