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UNC atop ACC with Duke after 87-76 win over Terps

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UNC's Harrison Barnes (40) drives to the basket against Maryland's Dino Gregory (33) in the second half. ROBERT WILLETT - rwillett@newsobserver.com

Check out our uncut and edited photo galleries from the game

CHAPEL HILL –  Just after the final horn sounded on North Carolina’s 87-76 win over Maryland on Sunday night, a section of the Smith Center crowd chanted “We! Want! Duke! We! Want! Duke!”

Not only have the 19th-ranked Tar Heels now tied the No. 1 Blue Devils atop the conference standings, UNC now has a chance to earn the top seed in the ACC tournament, as well.

Thanks to junior Tyler Zeller’s 25 points and freshman Harrison Barnes’ 21, both Duke (which lost at Virginia Tech on Saturday) and Carolina are 12-2 in the league standings, and they play each other next Saturday in what will probably a showdown for regular-season conference bragging rights. Both still have a mid-week game – the Blue Devils host Clemson, while the Tar Heels travel to third-place Florida State.

But Sunday’s dominating performance re-opened the door for the Tar Heels (22-6 overall), whose last loss was in Durham on Feb. 9. They have now won five in a row, and 15 of their last 17 games.

“Since the last practice, we say, ‘There’s some hardware on the line. We need to start playing like that.’’’ Said UNC sophomore forward John Henson, who finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 7 blocks. “[Assistant] coach [Joe] Holladay, he wears the ACC ring now, and says ‘Do you want one of these?’ He kind of teases us a little bit – but it’s a serious thing. We’ve got a chance to put ourselves in position to win a regular-season title. So we need to get a little serious, and that’s what we did today.”

UNC looked focused from the get-go, taking an early 11-5 lead on the strength of three quick 3-pointers from Barnes (9-for-23, six rebounds). Then Zeller took over, scoring 14 first-half points en route to pushing the Tar Heels to their first double-digit lead, 37-27 on a three-point play with 4:26 left before the break.

But it was a possession about two minutes later pretty much summed up the first 20 minutes: With 2:32 remaining before halftime, Barnes scored on  a fifth-chance basket – after Zeller, Henson, Barnes, and Zeller, again, missed on the same trip down the court. That gave UNC a 39-29 lead.

By the end of the half, when UNC wasahead 43-31, the Tar Heels had 15 offensive rebounds – while Maryland had made only 13 shots.

“It wasn’t one of our better starts, as far as our effort, of being aware, being alive,’’ Terrapins coach Gary Williams said. “Once you get behind like that, it’s hard to burn the energy … to keep the game within striking distance, and then try to make the comeback.”

It was more of the Barnes and Zeller show in the second half – with a dash of reserve Leslie McDonald  (who went 6-for-10 for the game, after making only six shots, total, over his previous four outings) mixed in. Meanwhile, sophomore Dexter Strickland finished with a career-high eight assists, and combined with point guard Kendall Marshall for a total of 18 assists before either managed to score a basket (they were a combined 1-for-9).

Maryland (18-11, 7-7 ACC), which needed this win to help strengthen its post-season chances, got 28 points from freshman guard Terrell Stoglin. Jordan Williams added 16 points and 19 rebounds.

The Tar Heels’ victory likely sets up a winner-take-regular-season-title scenario for Saturday’s Duke-Carolina game in Chapel Hill. Although UNC coach Roy Williams cautioned that the Tar Heels’ must first focus on Wednesday’s game in Tallahassee, Fla.,  Carolina could still lose that match-up, but finish first in the regular season by beating Duke (because even if the two teams finish tied atop the standings, UNC holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Devils should FSU or Virginia Tech finish in third place).

“It’s a great feeling [to know we have a chance],’’ Marshall said. “One of our goals this season is, we want to get a ring. Not one – but multiple. And the first step to that is the ACC regular season. To get that, we have a game against Florida State. So we just have to take care of business one step at a time. Right now, we control our own destiny.”

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Agree

Right on with Williams as COY, esp. if UNC wins the regular season. Nice to see the fast pace again. Note: KM is not the fastest guy, but his passes can "out run" anyone. Hopefully Reggie's knee tweek is not too serious, but that explains is wayward shooting touch.

UNC will miss Reggie and his

UNC will miss Reggie and his enormous hustle. I think he taught Barnes how to follow his shot. 

Proud night

We once again struggled from the field, but made up for it with hustle and defense.  Not many teams in the country can hang with us when Zeller and Henson play that well, and it really says something that they were able to play like that against arguably the best big man in the conference.  Leslie played well coming off the bench and Marshall is quickly becoming one of my favorite Tar Heels of all time.

I just hope that Henson keeps on smiling because that means we're doing well.

Great game.  UNC was in

Great game.  UNC was in control but Maryland kept it close enough to make things interesting.  Just hope Carolina doesn't overlook FSU in anticipating next Saturday. 

I will say this, If UNC manages to win the ACC this year, Roy should get a serious look for conference COY.

I think he should ( Williams

I think he should ( Williams ) get it anyway. Its been a great turn around.

COY

Weren't Maryland and Va-Tech picked to finish ahead of UNC this year? Even if not, Roy has done a great job and carolina might be the hottest team in the country (along with ND and BYU).  Chapel Hill will def be rocking Saturday!

Great win for  the Heels.

Great win for  the Heels. Jordon Williams is the real deal. I thought Maryland played tough and hung around until the end when the Heels became sloppy. Still , as the season has progressed its obvious that not many teams can hang with our front court. Zeller was sensational in this game and contributed on so many levels. Barnes has the uncanny ability to step it up at crucial times and did tonight. Mcdonald played very well and I actually thought Strickland had a great game. He was very contained and managed the ball well.. I believe he had 8 assists. Marshall had some inconsistent moments but still made some great plays. Sometimes I forget he is a freshman. What a great final week coming up. Duke and Unc have tough games to finish the week before they square off in the Dome. I hope the Heels don't look past FSU.

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About the blogger

Robbi Pickeral has covered ACC sports for The News & Observer since 2003. She can be reached at robbi.pickeral@newsobserver.com.
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