ATLANTA -- On Friday, the talk concerning North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall was all about his ability to pass the ball. On Saturday, it was all about his clutch, calm demeanor, as he sank a bank shot in the final seconds to give UNC the 69-67 win over NC State.
The win moves UNC into Sunday's ACC championship game.
UNC struggled for most of the day to stop NC State in the paint without John Henson, who was out with a sprained left wrist. The Heels moved to a zone defense midway through the second half, which helped contain NC State's offense, especially inside.
NC State eventually adjusted to UNC's zone, but lost top post presence C.J. Leslie with eight minutes remaining after he fouled out. That allowed UNC to work the paint more and helped the Tar Heels execute their zone more efficiently.
Before fouling out, UNC forward Tyler Zeller scored a game-high 23 points.
NC State never backed down and had chances to reclaim the lead with under a minute left, but turned the ball over twice before Marshall's game-winning jumper.
Turning point: UNC rarely plays zone, but the Tar Heels moved to it with a little more than 13 minutes remaining in Saturday's semifinal. It helped UNC slow down NC State's offense without Henson down low. It also helped that Leslie fouled out with 8:03 left after collecting three fouls in the span of a minute and a half.
Key player: UNC guard Reggie Bullock only scored five points, but he was all over the court. He grabbed seven rebounds and dished six assists, but really helped the Tar Heels on defense. He shut down NC State sharpshooter Scott Wood, who was held to two points on 1-of-6 shooting, and smothered him on a potential game-winning 3-point shot that Wood failed to even take. He also kept things under control for UNC late in the first half when he hit two straight buckets and grabbed a couple of rebounds.
Key stat: Neither team could get much going at all from the outside as they combined to shoot 8-of-31 from beyond the 3-point line. UNC hit five 3-pointers, while NC State hit just three.
Miscellaneous: UNC has now won 13 straight over the Wolfpack. ... The loss dropped NC State to 5-6 in the ACC tournament as the No. 5 seed. ... Despite fouling out, Leslie continued his tournament tear with 22 points, seven rebounds and two steals. ... With James Michael McAdoo dealing with foul trouble, UNC's Justin Watts played both point guard and power forward.
What’s next: The Tar Heels await the winner of the Duke-Florida State game. A win over Duke would lock up a No. 1 seed for UNC in the NCAA tournament. If the Blue Devils don't make it, the Heels will likely clinch a top seed before the day is over. As for the Wolfpack, Friday's win over Virginia was huge as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned. While NC State is probably still on the bubble, its ACC tournament showing has it in much better shape than a couple of days ago.