GAME NOTES: A berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship game is on the line on Saturday afternoon, as the seventh-seeded Maryland Terrapins take on the third-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in the semifinal round at Greensboro Coliseum.
Awaiting the winner in the championship round will be the survivor of the NC State/Miami-Florida semifinal bout.
Maryland appeared to have its NCAA Tournament bubble burst after it closed out its regular season with two straight losses, but it promptly put itself back in the discussion for the field of 68 with its performance in the ACC tourney. After dismissing Wake Forest in the first round (75-62), the Terps pulled off an 83-74 upset victory over second-seeded Duke in Friday night's quarterfinals to improve to 22-11 on the season.
After a relatively sluggish start to the campaign, UNC has put itself back on the national map down the stretch by winning seven of its last eight games to improve its overall record to 23-9. After earning a bye into the quarterfinal round, the Tar Heels made easy work of Florida State on Friday, 83-62.
UNC swept Maryland this season, most recently claiming a 79-68 win in College Park on March 6 to extend its lead in the all-time series to a commanding 120-57.
The Terps set the tone early on in their game against Duke, running out to a 12-2 lead less than four minutes in, and the Blue Devils could never recover. Maryland was red-hot from the field in the upset, shooting 51 percent, also showing its worth at the foul line with an excellent 23-of-25 effort. Dez Wells picked a great time to piece together a career-game, as he shot 9-of-13 from the floor and 10-of-10 from the stripe for 30 points. While Wells did the heavy lifting, Jake Layman, Alex Len, Nick Faust and Seth Allen were also crucial with 10 points apiece. Scoring points is rarely an issue for the Terps, as they net greater than 71 ppg on 46.5 percent from the field. Its defense has impressed as well, allowing 63.8 ppg, while holding teams to a lowly 38.2 percent shooting. Wells is versatile option, as he scores 13.0 ppg on greater than 53 percent from the floor to go along with 4.8 rpg, 3.1 apg and nearly a steal per contest. Len is one of the best true centers in the nation with 11.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 1.9 bpg.
UNC had very little issue dismissing FSU in the quarterfinals, shooting 49.2 percent from the field (including 10-of-22 from 3-point range), while winning the turnover battle by a commanding 18-7 margin. P.J. Hairston was deadly from beyond the arc (5-of-6) on his way to a game-high 21 points. Reggie Bullock tallied 17 points and nine rebounds, James Michael McAdoo netted 12 points, while Dexter Strickland (10 points) and Marcus Paige (nine points) combined for 17 assists against just two turnovers. While the Tar Heels' defensive attack isn't nearly as strong as Maryland's (68.4 ppg), they are fortunate enough to boast one of the nation's most potent offenses with 77.0 ppg. McAdoo (14.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Bullock (14.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg) are outstanding frontcourt pieces, with Bullock also making his mark on the perimeter by shooting 78- of-178 from 3-point range (.438). Hairston adds 13.9 ppg and is neck-and-neck with Bullock from beyond the arc (73 3-pointers), while Strickland and Paige are used to sharing point guard duties with a combined 8.8 apg.
While the surging Terps certainly helped themselves with a signature win over Duke, they can still use every win they can get for their NCAA Tournament resume. If they can tame UNC's outside shooters, another upset is certainly in the cards. However, figure for Maryland's run to come to an end against a Tar Heel squad that has seemed to figure things out down the stretch.
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