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North Carolina survives Duke comeback, advances to ACC title game

ACC Basketball Tournament - Semifinals

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 09: Joel Berry II #2 of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates a three pointer against the Duke Blue Devils during the semifinals of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament at the Barclays Center on March 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK -- This rivalry, man.

It never disappoints, and Friday night was no different.

Duke used a 13-0 run to cut a 72-56 North Carolina lead to three, but Grayson Allen committed a charge. On the ensuing possession, after a turnover by Theo Pinson with just 11.8 seconds left on the clock, Duke had a chance to tie the game. But Allen missed a three, Pinson redeemed himself by hitting both ends of a one-and-one and the Tar Heels escaped, 74-69.

“I have nothing to say about the last five minutes,” Roy Williams said. “Coach Robinson coached that part of the game. You guys be sure and tell Coach Rob I said that. It was unbelievable.”

North Carolina will advance to take on Virginia in the title game of the ACC tournament on Saturday night. The Wahoos dispatched Clemson in the first semifinal, 64-58, behind 15 points from Kyle Guy.

For the first time since Duke made the decision to play a zone full-time a month ago, the Blue Devils looked exposed in it.

North Carolina’s small-ball lineup, the one featuring Luke Maye at the five and Pinson at the four, carved up that zone. Pinson finished with six points, seven assists and four boards -- numbers that would have looked more impressive if his teammates had shot better from three or if he hadn’t gotten himself into foul trouble -- while Maye added 17 points, 10 boards and four assists of his own in the win.

“Holding them to 74 points was good,” Coach K said. “They’re one of the explosive teams, as explosive as anybody. And they have two kids that can really handle the ball well in the middle of the zone in Pinson and Maye. So that’s good for us.”

This was the second time during this event that North Carolina has had to face a zone, but that will change on Saturday night.

The Tar Heels will be taking on a Virginia team that plays some of the toughest man-to-man defense in college basketball; hell, in all of basketball. There is a reason that the Cavaliers are the nation’s best defense and have been widely considered the nation’s best defensive program since Tony Bennett arrived.

The first time these two programs faced off this season did not go great for UNC. They lost 61-49 in a game that, as Pinson put it, they “played terrible”.

“We’ve just got to make sure we’re taking good shots and making sure we’re moving them on the defensive end,” Joel Berry II said.

“The turnovers, the sloppiness that we have at times can really kill you against Virginia because they’re so efficient on the offensive end of the floor,” Williams added. “If you don’t continue scoring yourself, it’s really, really difficult.”