North Carolina Tar Heels: 2012 ACC tournament


ATLANTA — Florida State forward Bernard James has a simple message for those who dare to doubt his basketball team.

“You should be a believer now,” he yelled as the last specs of championship confetti floated down around him from the Philips Arena ceiling.

Guard Ian Miller wasn’t so reserved with his response.

“I guess they believe now,” he said.

“If they don’t, tough luck because we’re getting a ring for this one.”

It’s hard not to believe in this FSU team after the Seminoles knocked off top-seeded North Carolina 85-82 in the ACC tournament final. The Seminoles captured their first ACC tournament championship and became the first team since Georgia Tech in 1995-96 to beat both Duke and North Carolina twice in the same season.

The same team that lost 6 of 10 games from the end of November to the beginning of January, suffering losses by 20 and 18 points along the way, went 4-1 against Duke and North Carolina, proving that FSU’s successes were no accident.

“This is not a fluke,” Miller said. “You can’t win a championship on a fluke. Today, by winning this championship, our coaches told us it ain’t a fluke no more. People know we’re real now.”

Added James: “We silenced a lot of the doubters who say we don’t belong in the same breath as Duke and Carolina.”

Sunday, FSU stood alone, again, but only because it was above Tobacco Road’s giants.

[+] EnlargeMichael Snaer
Bob Donnan/US PresswireGuard Michael Snaer and the Seminoles will be a tough force in the NCAA tournament.
Now, the Seminoles, turn their attention to the NCAA tournament and are looking to take their high-flying act to the top of the college basketball mountain.

“We have five or six more wins until the national championship,” Miller said. “We’re trying to get there now.”

The notion of FSU making such a run in the craziest of months is no longer laughable. This team is legit. It went from trouble to tremendous in a few months and now has tons of momentum to thrive off of.

Plus, it’s going to be hard for teams to keep up with the Noles. FSU’s up-tempo offense frustrated its victims throughout the ACC tournament. UNC, which desperately wanted to slow things down, was left zonked after its uncomfortable foot race.

With such a deep bench, FSU was able to keep its motor going and the legs churning.

“We were all coming off a third day of playing so we wanted to impose our will and try to let them know that they couldn’t outrun us,” forward Xavier Gibson said.

That sort of thing will come in handy during the Dance.

This team can shoot, too, with guards like Michael Snaer (ACC tournament MVP), Luke Loucks and Deividas Dulkys lighting it up from the floor. The Noles shot just under 60 percent against the Heels and shot no worse than 42 percent during its current five-game winning streak.

FSU is also hot from beyond on the arc after hitting 25 of 49 3s in the ACC tournament.

With as fast, physical and athletic as the Noles are, this will be a formidable group for any team to face in the coming weeks. Physically, this team is ready, but players want to make sure that once the celebration of Sunday’s win has subsided that this team is in the right frame of mind for another championship run.

“We can’t get satisfied with this,” James said.

For as sweet as Sunday’s win was, this team is still hungry.

“The ACC was just to let people know that we’re not a game, there’s no jokes no more,” Miller said. “We wanted to make a statement and today we did that.”

ATLANTA -- Florida State survived a vicious rally and a last-second 3-point attempt from top-seeded North Carolina to capture its first ACC tournament championship with a 85-82 win Sunday.

With the win, the Seminoles became the first team since Georgia Tech in 1995-96 to beat both Duke and North Carolina twice in the same season.

The Seminoles' up-tempo offense was too much for the Tar Heels to handle for most of the afternoon, but it also helped that FSU shot 58.9 percent from the field (33-of-56).

UNC matched FSU well in the second half, but a nine-point halftime deficit was too much for the Heels to overcome. Florida State also connected on 11 of 22 3-point shots, including four from both Michael Snaer and Deividas Dulkys.

Four Seminoles players -- Snaer, Dulkys, Luke Loucks and Ian Miller -- were all double-digit scorers.

Without forward John Henson, who was out with a sprained left wrist, UNC failed to have a consistent down-low presence on both ends of the floor.

Turning point: With UNC down one with 10 seconds left, point guard Kendall Marshall chucked a deep 3 that rimmed out and was rebounded by Dulkys. He was fouled and converted two free throws to put FSU up three with five seconds remaining.

Key player: Snaer scored a team-high 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting and hit 4 of 5 3-point attempts. He was also named the tournament MVP.

Key stat: Florida State shot 58.9 percent from the field Sunday and hit 11 of 22 3s.

Miscellaneous: This was North Carolina's ACC-leading 31st appearance in the ACC tournament championship game. ... Since Dulkys scored a career-high 32 points in the regular-season win over UNC, his best point total had been 14 points. He scored 16 Sunday. ... UNC's P.J. Hairston hit three 3s Sunday. Since hitting four against Monmouth on Jan. 1, Hairston had made only eight 3s heading into Sunday. ... FSU's Bernard James recorded five blocks. ... Both teams each scored 40 points in the paint. ... FSU's bench outscored UNC's 28-14.

What’s next: FSU's tournament chances were never in doubt, but with the win, it earned an automatic bid to the Big Dance. Now, the Noles will sit back and wait for their seeding fate. FSU could now be seriously considered for a No. 3 seed. UNC likely locked up a No. 1 seed with Duke's loss to the Noles on Saturday, but there could be some worry with Missouri capturing the Big 12 championship Saturday night.

UNC's John Henson won't start

March, 11, 2012
3/11/12
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ATLANTA -- North Carolina freshman James Michael McAdoo will start his second straight game, in place of forward John Henson, in Sunday's ACC tournament championship game.

Henson, who missed Saturday's ACC semifinal game after spraining his left wrist on Friday, will be in uniform but will only play in an emergency situation against Florida State, a school spokesman said.

Henson -- the ACC Defensive Player of the Year who sustained the injury when he tried to break a fall after he was fouled -- was on the Philips Arena court about an hour before tipoff on Sunday. For about 15 minutes, he tested his taped left wrist by dribbling, catching and shooting, before returning to the locker room. He returned for a second warm-up before the team its decision.

ACC tournament: Sunday preview

March, 11, 2012
3/11/12
10:15
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ATLANTA – Florida State hasn’t looked at any of the film from its 33-point victory over North Carolina on Jan. 14.

“When you get big blowout wins like that, it’s probably not the best idea to go back and watch; you might get a sense of comfort, or forget that we have to play hard – or what got us that 33-point lead,’’ forward Bernard James said. “So we just put that one behind us, and chalked it up to Carolina not being ready.”

He knows the Tar Heels will be this time.

The Seminoles downright embarrassed the UNC two months ago, beating the Tar Heels on the boards, holding them to 37 percent shooting. The 90-57 rout marked the most lopsided loss of the Roy Williams era, and it was so irritating/befuddling/maddening that Williams and most of the team left the court early – leaving three walk-ons and two reserves to finish the game.

Since then, the Tar Heels have lost only once, to Duke on a buzzer-beater.

Since then, the Seminoles have lost three times, but won three games with last-second heroics.

"We can't necessarily worry about the games that we've played prior to this game coming up,’’ FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Each game takes on a different personality and I'm sure the team that we played in Tallahassee will not be the team we play on Sunday."

UNC will be competing for its first ACC title since 2008; FSU will be vying for its first ACC title, period.

A few things to watch in the 1 p.m. EST showdown at Philips Arena:

WILL UNC’S JOHN HENSON PLAY?

The ACC Defensive Player of the Year sat out Saturday’s semifinal victory over NC State after spraining his left wrist during Friday’s quarterfinal win over Maryland.

His status will once again be a game-time decision – and his potential absence will hurt.

James, a former Air Force sergeant and all a member of the ACC’s All-Defense team, is a load for anyone to handle, and if Henson can’t go, James would probably match up with UNC’s James Michael McAdoo. The Tar Heels freshman has been more confident and aggressive lately, but got he into foul trouble during Saturday’s game against the Wolfpack.

3-POINTERS

One of the reasons FSU was so successful against UNC last time was Deividas Dulkys, who shot 8-for-10 from behind the 3-point arc and scored a career-high 32 points.

The Seminoles senior hasn’t approached anything close to that since (with 12 points being his high), but you get the point: UNC (which also lost to Duke at home when the Blue Devils shot 14-for-36 on 3s) can’t afford to let an opposing team get hot.

The Seminole to watch: Michael Snaer. He’s shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point land for the season, and buried two of those aforementioned game-winners this season.

THAT COMPETITIVE FLARE

One of the reasons UNC lost so badly – and looked so listless in doing so – in the last meeting, according to players, was that they bought into their own preseason No. 1 hype and didn’t compete as hard as necessary. That shouldn’t be a problem Sunday.

The last time UNC was looking for revenge was last weekend, when it went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and pasted the Blue Devils, building a 24-point lead by halftime en route to the ACC regular-season title.

FSU, though, has plenty of motivation, too. Lots of folks wrote the Seminoles off when they lost to two Ivy League schools, then opened the ACC season with a 20-point defeat at Clemson. Since then, they’ve beaten UNC and Duke, but winning the league tournament would prove that the conference is more than a two-team league.

“This has been our goal since the beginning of the season, and we want to accomplish it,’’ Dulkys said.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
ATLANTA -- To those who still think North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall is a one-dimensional player: Take that.

With the score knotted at 67 in Saturday's ACC tournament semifinal, and teammate Harrison Barnes unable to find much breathing room against NC State, Marshall played the role of game-winner. After Barnes passed the ball back to him, Marshall drove, shouldered into Wolfpack guard Alex Johnson (which had State fans and coach Mark Gottfried screaming “charge!”), and banked in a roughly-8-foot shot with 10.2 seconds left.

Marshall (who set the ACC record for assists in a season on Friday) finished with 12 points and 10 assists, the first time a Tar Heel has ever recorded three consecutive point-assist double-double games.

“The way most people tell it, I’m one-dimensional; all I can do is pass, I can’t defend, I can’t score,’’ Marshall said. “But my job is to go out there and play basketball, and find a way to help my team win. And I felt like I did a pretty good job for the most part today.”

STATE SHOULD BE IN: If UNC coach Roy Williams had a vote, NC State would make the NCAA tournament.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that they’re one of the top 68 teams in the country,’’ said Williams.

The Wolfpack fell to 22-12 with the loss, and entered the tournament on the bubble. But ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had them projected as one of the teams earning an at-large bid as of Saturday afternoon.

WE’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE: Once again, UNC wing Reggie Bullock stymied Scott Wood into a frustrating day. NC State’s second-leading scorer finished with 2 points on 1-for-6 shooting.

In this season's previous meetings between the teams, Bullock helped hold Wood to 4-for-12 and 1-for-5 shooting, respectively.

“Reggie’s done a great job three times this year of really making it tough on him,’’ Marshall said.

ONE MORE POSITION? Senior Justin Watts has played four positions in the past, and played all four in one game Saturday. But he’s never played the "5" spot.

Has the 6-foot-5 wing earned the right to play it for maybe 30 seconds at some point, starting "5" Tyler Zeller was asked?

Zeller laughed. “He could probably do it for 30 seconds; he’s a little undersized for that position, though.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter.

ATLANTA -- Out of the corner of his eye, North Carolina senior Justin Watts saw someone doing jumping jacks under the basket.

He didn’t know who it was, and with about three seconds left and his team leading NC State by two points Saturday, he didn’t really care: “All I knew was that I had to get there -- fast.”

So sprinting harder than several teammates had ever seen him sprint before, the 6-foot-5 athlete cut off NC State junior Scott Wood’s pass to an open DeShawn Painter, grabbed a steal, and threw it to the other end of the Phillips Arena Court.

“JWatts probably made the biggest play of the game,’’ North Carolina coach Roy Williams said after his team survived one last desperation play to beat the Wolfpack 69-67; the Tar Heels advanced to their 31st ACC tournament title game, where they will play Florida State on Sunday.

It was probably the biggest play, and game, of Watts' career, too.

Many will credit UNC’s 13th straight victory over rival NC State to point guard Kendall Marshall’s 8-foot bank shot with 10.2 seconds left -- a controversial play that had Wolfpack fans (and coach Mark Gottfried) screaming “charge!” after the sophomore put a shoulder into State’s Alex Johnson on his drive toward the hoop.

[+] EnlargeUNC's Justin Watts
Paul Abell/US PRESSWIREA late steal by Justin Watts had he and his Tar Heel teammates smiling.
But even Marshall gave the kudos to Watts, who played four different positions because forward John Henson (sprained wrist) was sidelined and so many others were in foul trouble.

“He does so many things that so many people might not notice, might not appreciate,’’ said Marshall, who finished with 12 points and 10 assists. “But hopefully … people can see how big he came up for us in this game.”

Indeed, when Marshall picked up his second foul, Watts -- a natural wing -- spent some time at point guard.

“I was just catching and pitching ahead; I wasn’t trying to do much,’’ said Watts, who had played only one other (short) stretch this season at the ‘1.’ “When you’ve got guys to throw it into like [Tyler] Zeller and Harrison [Barnes], they make you look a lot better than you are."

And when UNC freshman James Michael McAdoo (making his first career start with Henson sidelined) picked up his fourth foul, Watts found himself playing power forward and guarding 6-8 star forward C.J. Leslie.

“He’s taller than me, so I just tried to use my quickness to stay in front of him,’’ Watts said.

That became key with 8:35 left, when Watts slid in front of Leslie to draw Leslie’s fourth foul (the second of three infractions for which the Wolfpack sophomore was called in a 91-second span, resulting in his fouling out). It was another whistle that had Wolfpack fans screaming in fury.

“In terms of calls, I think the final [tally] was something like 23-19, so you can’t really complain that was lopsided,’’ Barnes (16 points), who drew the fifth foul on Leslie (22 points), said. “They were calling it pretty tight, but for good reason -- you don’t want to let UNC-NC State get out of hand.”

It was a frenetic battle, though, one that saw 15 lead changes, one coat-shuck (by Gottfried), and several rare possessions of zone defense by the Tar Heels.

Zeller led UNC with 23 points, but he too credited Watts for doing so many important things in the victory. The reserve made only 1 of his 4 shots, but also had four rebounds, an assist and three steals -- including that key, racing grab in the final seconds.

“He fills so many roles for us,” Williams said. “A tremendous leader, a tremendous young man, tremendous versatility. He’s been asked to do so many things this year … JWatts is not selfish. He cares about our team, and that’s an admirable quality to have. It’s a quality that’s going to be good for him the rest of his life.”

Asked why he’s so willing to fill so many roles, Watts, who tends to shun the spotlight, explained his reasoning: “I’ll do whatever it takes to help my team win.”

Perhaps that’s why, after the Wolfpack couldn’t convert on a desperation play with 1.2 seconds left, Watts grabbed the game ball -- the same one he had swiped not long before -- and briefly pressed it to his lips.

“I was kissing the ball because it bounced our way a couple of times,’’ he said. “I appreciate that ball.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

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.
ATLANTA -- North Carolina forward John Henson, who sprained his left wrist on Friday, will not play in Saturday's ACC tournament semifinal against NC State, a team spokesman said about 25 minutes before tipoff.

The junior was injured with 14:59 left the first half of the top-seeded Tar Heels' quarterfinal win against Maryland, when he was fouled driving to the basket, and tried to brace his fall. Henson immediately starting shaking his wrist, and asked to come out of the game after he missed his second free throw.

After going to the locker room to have his wrist examined and re-taped, he re-entered the game with 8:06 left in the first half. But he lasted only 40 seconds, grimacing in pain when he tried to catch a hard pass from point guard Kendall Marshall.

Tests at halftime were negative, but the team said after the game that the ACC Defensive Player of the Year's status for Saturday would be a game-time decision

Freshman forward James Michael McAdoo, who tied his career high with 14 points against the Terrapins, is expected to start in place of Henson.
Catching Up With: Eric Montross

ATLANTA -- Former North Carolina center Eric Montross remembers the keys to playing three games in three days in the ACC tournament: “Pay attention to what you eat, get your rest, drink plenty of fluids.”

That’s pretty much the key to calling 11 games in four days at the ACC tournament as an analyst for the Tar Heels Sports Network, as well.

Montross, an All-American and a starter for the 1993 national champions, was suffering a cold and already beginning to lose his voice when we caught up with him Friday, before the second day of the ACC tournament at Philips Arena was set to begin.

But just like during his playing days, he was powering through. And he will squeeze back behind the mike Saturday to add analysis to the UNC-NC State and Duke-Florida State semifinal games of the ACC tournament.

A quick Q&A:

How do you prepare for calling 11 games in four days?

Eric Montross: Honestly, the hardest part of this job is just the amount of time you have to stay in one spot. For me, being 7-feet tall on press row is probably the hardest challenge. My heart rate doesn’t get over 70, but it definitely is a tiring process. We were on the air [Thursday] from 11 a.m. to midnight, and off from 5 to 6. So we were on for 12 hours. And then we do it all again [Friday]. But it is fun.

It is a lot to prepare for, because you want to give the same quality of broadcast to all the teams that you do for Carolina. And we spend so much time watching Carolina, that it’s hard to know the other teams as in-depth. So I think the real challenge is really looking introspectively at the other teams, and having enough time to be able to do that.

Why did you go into broadcasting?

EM: It was pure happenstance. When Mick Mixon [the network’s former analyst] went to the Panthers, I had been going on at halftime sometimes, and they asked me if I was interested, and I said, ‘Sure, I’ll try it for a year.’ And here we are seven years later.

But I think the biggest thing for me is that I enjoy the guys that I work with, and I enjoy the team that I talk about. … And it’s basketball. We’re talking about the sport, and helping people enjoy it, and that’s fun.

Can you discuss the other things you’ve been involved with -- the fundraising for the Carolina Basketball Family Fund, being a member of the search committee that helped hire UNC’s new athletic director, Bubba Cunningham?

EM: I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy athletic fundraising. It sounds odd, but it’s given me a totally different perspective on college athletics. Because as a student-athlete anywhere, you just experience it; you don’t understand all the dynamics of it -- not that you should, not that you could. But it’s really rewarding to be a part of that, sustaining the experience for these student-athletes.

And of course we’re working with the Children’s Hospital all the time. We’re in our 18th year of holding the camp [the Eric Montross Father’s Day Camp, which benefits UNC Children’s Hospital]. It’s really been centered around Chapel Hill, and it’s really been an honor to hold the positions that I have, and to be part of the experiences that I’ve had.

I’ve never been part of anything like the search for Bubba, and it was a remarkable search group, and I learned so much from the individuals. But the experience in the search process, it was foreign to me. And to watch people who understood the dynamics of it, it was very educational, and I really enjoyed it.

You’ve experienced a couple of careers, as an NBA player, now as a broadcaster. What’s next for you?

EM: I really like doing what I do with these guys. I’ve always been fortunate, and I’ve always believed that when you invest yourself fully in what you do, opportunities will come. I don’t know exactly what the next opportunity will be, what the next ‘career,’ so to speak, will be. But I hope it’s centered around the university, and that it has a heavy athletic piece. Because I think that college athletics is still a magical entity. But where that takes us, I don’t know.

Finally, how do you see UNC faring in the ACC tournament? [Note: This question was asked before forward John Henson injured his wrist during the win over Maryland.]

EM: When the Tar Heels play a very balanced game, they are the best team in the league. Their challenge is to become very consistent in their level of play. If they can do that, if they can home in on that piece, then they should be playing Sunday. But that makes a lot of assumptions -- and what that doesn’t take into account is what the other teams will play like.

… We have seen glimpses of really strong play [out of UNC], but it hasn’t been sustained for a number of games. And they’re a really good team; I’m not trying to demean them at all. But in order to reach their goal of a national championship or being in the Final Four, to have a chance at that, that level of play has got to be sustained.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

ACC Tournament: Saturday Preview

March, 10, 2012
3/10/12
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ATLANTA – North Carolina and Duke are still vying for a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

NC State is trying to solidify a spot in the field of 68.

And Florida State – which has already secured a spot in the NCAAs – would like to become only the second team not named “UNC” or “Duke” to win the ACC tournament in 16 years.

A quick preview of today’s NCAA semifinals at Philips Arena:

No. 1 seed North Carolina vs. No. 5 seed N.C. State, 1 p.m. EST

Will he play or won’t he play? The status of UNC forward John Henson’s left wrist – which he sprained in the first half of his team’s quarterfinal win over Maryland on Friday – hasn’t reached the scrutiny level of “Ty Lawson Toe-Gate”, circa 2009 (when the starting point guard sat out the entire ACC tournament, and part of the NCAAs, en route to a national title).

But give it time.

Official word Friday was that the 6-foot-11 junior would test his pain threshold Saturday morning to see if he would be able to play against the Wolfpack. But frankly, it would make sense to be cautious with the ACC’s leading rebounder, blocker and defender. UNC, after all, has wrapped up an NCAA tournament berth, and it’s just a matter of whether it ends up with a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

If Henson doesn’t play, it opens up more room the lane for NC State forward C.J. Leslie, who has come on particularly strong of late. He’s averaging 18.9 points and 11 rebounds over his past seven games – including 19 points and 14 rebounds in Friday’s quarterfinal victory over Virginia.

“He [Henson] is a great player – first-team All-ACC, Defensive Player of the Year; we want him to play,’’ Wolfpack guard C.J. Williams said. “We don’t want to give a team an excuse, ‘Oh, we didn’t have one of our best players.’ He’s definitely a matchup problem for us, with his length and his size … but we want him to play.”

The Tar Heels beat their in-state rival in both match-ups this season.

No. 2 seed Duke vs. No. 3 seed Florida State, approximately 3:30 p.m. EST

Duke, which lost to Florida State on its home court in January, offered up a little bit of payback last month, when it beat the Seminoles in Tallahassee, Fla.

Guard Andre Dawkins was 6-for-12 for 22 points that game, with all six of those made shots being 3-pointers.

But since then, however, he’s made only 1 of his 12 shot attempts over his past four games. Not a good stat for the Blue Devils, especially since they are also missing forward Ryan Kelly for the ACC tournament because of a foot injury.

The key for FSU will be to limit Duke’s outside scoring while taking advantage of the Devils’ thin depth inside.

And if it’s close at the end, they have a couple of clutch options in Michael Snaer and Ian Miller, who have both buried game-winners this season.

“We know we have a tremendous opportunity to do something great,’’ Snaer said. “My team is really confident in our abilities, and we’re playing like it. We’re playing together. … We know how important this game is to us, and to our program and to the history of our program. And I can’t wait for it to get started.”

ATLANTA -- Earlier this week, former Georgia Tech point guard Craig Neal said he was happy that a player of Kendall Marshall’s magnitude was about to break his 24-year-old ACC record for assists in a season.

But after crushing Neal’s old mark of 303, North Carolina’s Marshall -- who now stands at 311 after his 13-point, 12-assist outing in his ACC quarterfinal win over Maryland on Friday -- said he doesn’t want anyone smashing his.

“Honestly, I think I’m going to be a little mad if anybody ever breaks mine,’’ the sophomore said, laughing.

After all, it was hard earned.

Marshall set the new mark with 15:31 left in the first half at Philips Arena, on a pass to forward Harrison Barnes. That gave the Tar Heels an early 14-8 lead, and Marshall contributed to all six of UNC’s buckets to that point (burying a 3-pointer on the only one he didn’t assist).

Coach Roy Williams congratulated his starting ballhandler after the game, picking on his six turnovers -- “he said he thinks it was four, I said it was eight” -- but making it clear how proud he was of his accomplishment.

Meanwhile, Marshall said he’d like to pad his assist total by about 50 before the season ends, just to make it more difficult for anyone to ever break. (The NCAA record, by the way, stands at 406.)

“This [ACC] record is probably the biggest one to me,’’ said Marshall, who passed Ed Cota a week ago to set the single-season mark at UNC. “There are a lot of great players that have come through the ACC. Some are great scorers, some are great passers. And just to be mentioned in the same breath as them, that means a lot.

“But at the same time, I’m humbled by it, because I realize that those players went on to do greater things. I want to be able to do that as well.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

UNC's semifinal foe: NC State

March, 9, 2012
3/09/12
5:23
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ATLANTA -- Top-seeded North Carolina will face No. 5 seed N.C. State in Saturday's ACC tournament semifinals, courtesy of the Wolfpack's 67-64 victory over Virginia on Friday.

Forward C.J. Leslie had 19 points and 14 rebounds in the win -- and he could make for a tough matchup for the Tar Heels, if junior John Henson can't play because of his sprained left wrist. UNC won both matchups with its in-state rival during the regular season.

Check back for more later....

McAdoo clicking in UNC victory

March, 9, 2012
3/09/12
4:59
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ATLANTA -- Every time North Carolina assistant strength and conditioning coach Jackie Manuel sees forward James Michael McAdoo, he asks the freshman one question: “You hear that clicking noise?”

McAdoo’s response: Yes. Finally.

Perhaps just in time for the Tar Heels.

[+] EnlargeJames Michael McAdoo, Nick Faust
AP Photo/John BazemoreWith star forward John Henson injured, UNC's James Michael McAdoo wasn't afraid to get physical on Friday.
With All-ACC forward John Henson icing his sprained left wrist for most of the game, McAdoo tied a career high with 14 points, and added eight rebounds, in top-seeded UNC's 85-69 victory over Maryland on Friday in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. It continued a pattern of aggressive, confident and more controlled play over the last month or so -- and could be key if Henson misses any more time because of his injury.

The junior’s status will be a game-time decision for Saturday’s semifinal with NC State.

“We’ll continue to ice it and see what happens tomorrow,’’ said Henson, who sustained the injury early in the first half when he was trying to break a fall after he was fouled. X-rays taken at halftime were negative. “… But the team did fine without me, especially with how James played.”

It seems like it’s been a long time coming for McAdoo, the 2009 USA Male Basketball Player of the Year who was one of the highest-rated forwards in his freshman class.

He showed glimpses of his potential early in the season, when he would sprint in front of the fast break, or battle for a rebound. But all too often, McAdoo struggled to finish around the hoop -- coach Roy Williams even threatened the bench with running on one occasion, if the unknowing freshman didn’t finish strong on a particular play with a dunk -- as he struggled to find a place in UNC’s system.

Then all of a sudden, right around UNC’s late-January win over N.C. State, McAdoo started hearing that clicking noise.

Mostly because he met with a few coaches, and started hearing what they were telling him: that he was needed, that he could contribute more.

“The difference in high school basketball to the ACC is a big difference,’’ Williams said. “I can't tell you exactly when it [was], but even when he was struggling I kept putting him in the game, until one day I finally told him, I said, 'Hey. I must think you're pretty good because you're not playing very well, and I keep putting you in. So why don't you just go ahead and play well?”

The turnaround began on the practice court, McAdoo said, and realizing what playing hard there would mean when it mattered.

“I wasn’t really very fond of practice; I never have been,’’ he said. “But I just really bought into the way you play is how you practice, and that really has helped me.”

Teammates noticed the change in workouts -- the way he battled harder for rebounds, worked more on his shot, focused on defense.

And Maryland noticed it Friday, too, as the 6-foot-9 athlete buried jumpers, took at least one charge, hit the boards and frustrated the Terps big men.

“I was disappointed we couldn’t score more on McAdoo,’’ Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “I thought we could score on him. He is not 7-foot.”

No, but he was aggressive. And focused. And confident.

Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock led the Tar Heels with 15 points apiece, and point guard Kendall Marshall (13 points, 12 assists) set the ACC single-season record for assists. Guard Terrell Stoglin scored 30 for Maryland.

But McAdoo made 5-of-8 shots in 29 minutes, and made a difference -- especially with Henson out.

"James Michael was big,'' Williams said.

And now, he’s determined to stay that way.

Click.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
ATLANTA -- North Carolina forward John Henson – an All-ACC first-team selection, and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year -- will be a game-time decision for the Tar Heels’ Saturday semifinal game in the ACC tournament because of a sprained left wrist.

[+] EnlargeUNC's John Henson
Paul Abell/US PRESSWIREJohn Henson injured his left wrist in the first half against Maryland.
“They don’t think it’s a break with John,’’ coach Roy Williams said after his team beat Maryland in the quarterfinals, 85-69, at Philips Arena. “It’s just he had trouble catching and gripping the basketball. It’s his left wrist; that’s the one he uses. That’s his dominant hand, even though he is right-handed.”

The junior was injured with 14:59 left the first half Friday when he was fouled driving to the basket, and tried to brace his fall. Henson immediately starting shaking his wrist, and asked to come out of the game after he missed his second free throw.

After going to the locker room to have his wrist examined and re-taped, he re-entered the game with 8:06 left in the first half. But he lasted only 40 seconds, grimacing in pain when he tried to catch a hard pass from point guard Kendall Marshall.

X-rays at halftime were negative.

“I was worried, but I was a little happier after the X-rays came back and said they said it wasn’t broken,’’ said Henson, who entered the game averaging 14.2 points, plus a league-leading 10.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game.

Henson, who wore a brace on the same wrist for part of last season after injuring it, said he plans to continue to ice the wrist, and could play in the semis, depending on how it feels Saturday.

But it wouldn’t be surprising for UNC to be cautious. Ranked No. 4 in the country, the Tar Heels are in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but they also want to be healthy when they get there.

“The ACC tournament’s a big deal, but we’re also preparing for next week, and you don’t want to put him in a game where he gets hurt and he can’t play all the way through the tournament,’’ senior forward Tyler Zeller said. “So you want to be cautious, but you want him to be able to play if he’s able to."

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
ATLANTA – Roughly a week ago, North Carolina beat Maryland to stay in the race for the regular-season ACC title.

Friday at Philips Arena, the top-seeded Tar Heels will face the eighth-seeded Terps in their first step toward winning the ACC tournament title.

On the line this weekend for the Tar Heels: a possible top seed in the NCAA tournament, the chance to continue gaining momentum by extending their seven-game winning streak.

For Maryland, it’s a chance to get young players more experience – and for ACC leading scorer Terrell Stoglin to continue rounding out his game.

A few things to watch:

KENDALL MARSHALL’S ASSISTS

Start counting early, because UNC’s sophomore point guard needs only five assists to break former Georgia Tech ballhandler Craig Neal’s ACC season record of 303 (set in 1988). Marshall tied a career high with 16 assists in UNC’s victory at Maryland on Feb. 4, then recorded eight during the rematch last week.

His season-low for assists is 4 – during his team’s 33-point loss at Florida State on Jan. 14 – so the question isn’t whether the record will fall; but who will be on the other end of the pass when it does?

REBOUNDING

The Tar Heels have not lost the battle on the boards in 13 consecutive league games, the longest streak against ACC foes since the 2007-08 season (when that team won or tied in rebounds in all 16 regular-season games, plus three conference-tournament games).

UNC out-rebounded Maryland by 7 and 1, respectively, during this season’s matchups.

FRESHMAN WATCH

Maryland freshman guard Nick Faust has scored in double figures in six of his past seven games (13.0 ppg), since returning to the starting lineup after the season-ending injury to Pe’Shon Howard.

North Carolina freshman forward James Michael McAdoo, meanwhile, has come on strong of late. He was aggressive, controlled and confident during his 6-point, 4-rebound game off the bench at Duke – a combination the Tar Heels have been waiting for all season.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

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