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Hurricanes stop Tar Heels to win first tourney title

The SportsXchange

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Miami senior Reggie Johnson sat in a corner of the locker room hugging the Atlantic Coast Conference championship trophy Sunday afternoon.

"This year, we found ways to win those close games," Johnson said. "That shows signs of a champion."

That's exactly what the ninth-ranked Hurricanes became by winning the conference tournament, pulling ahead of North Carolina in the waning moments for an 81-71 victory at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Shane Larkin, the tournament's Most Valuable Player, scored 28 points as regular-season titlist Miami completed an ACC sweep by prevailing in a 3-point shootout with third-seeded North Carolina.

Miami won in its first appearance in the ACC tournament title game against one of the country's traditional powers.

"What we're trying to do is emulate them," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said of Duke and North Carolina. "They're the teams that are role models for teams in the country."

Trey McKinney Jones poured in 20 points for Miami, which made 12 of 22 shots from 3-point range. Rion Brown had 12 points and Julian Gamble, in more close-to-the-basket fashion, scored nine of his 11 points in the second half.

Miami (27-6), which is a candidate for a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA Tournament, finally broke ahead in the final minutes in front of an overwhelmingly pro-Tar Heels crowd.

"This gives us momentum," Larkin said. "A lot of people said we peaked too early. We stayed together and believed in ourselves and we came out here and got three wins in a row against three very tough teams."

P.J. Hairston, who was 6 of 13 on 3-point attempts, scored 28 points for North Carolina. The Tar Heels had 13 3-point baskets on 29 attempts.

"The only thing that separated us was that they made shots the last five minutes," North Carolina guard Marcus Paige said. "We didn't."

The game featured 15 lead changes and 10 ties.

North Carolina (24-10), aiming for its first ACC tournament crown since 2008 and its 18th overall, led 65-61 before the Hurricanes rattled off an 11-2 run. During that stretch, Hairston picked up his fourth foul with 5:26 to play.

"You get right here and you'd like to be rewarded," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said of his team, which began the conference season with an 0-2 record. "It's anybody's ballgame with five minutes to play."

Paige tallied 17 points, James Michael McAdoo added 12 and Reggie Bullock had 11 for North Carolina.

McKinney Jones hit three 3-pointers in each half, an example of the scoring depth available to the Hurricanes.

"I've never seen a team like that," North Carolina guard Dexter Strickland said. "We were knocking down shots and they were knocking down shots."

The Tar Heels went 4-for-4 on 3s to start the second half, giving them 12 for the game with 15 1/2 minutes to play.

"Carolina was unbelievable in the first half and maybe even more unbelievable in the first 10 or 12 minutes of the second half," Larranaga said.

Hairston, his left hand bandaged from a cut sustained Friday night, drained 3-pointers on three consecutive first-half possessions. Miami nearly matched those with three jumpers, two from 3-point range.

Larkin hit a 3 and Miami was up 39-35 as part of eight consecutive scoring possessions for the Hurricanes.

Down 42-35, the Tar Heels answered with 3s from Paige and Hairston before Larkin's runner at the end of the half made it 44-41.

"I thought the first half was about as high a level of basketball as I've seen all year long," Larranaga said. "That's what I told the team at halftime. I said, 'We're playing great. They're playing great. This is a great game. We've got to keep playing great.' The guys did."

Miami's Durand Scott, who was the star with 32 points a day earlier in a semifinal against North Carolina State, left 26 seconds into the game clutching his back. He returned by the 13-minute mark of the half.

Scott scored on consecutive possessions as the Hurricanes closed within 18-17. He finished with six points and a spot on the all-tournament first team.

Fifteen of the game's 32 first-half field goals were 3-pointers.

Gamble, who's from Durham (about eight miles from North Carolina's campus in Chapel Hill), finished with game highs of 10 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Notes: Not only was it Miami's first ACC tournament title appearance, it was the Hurricanes' first conference tournament championship game in basketball in any league. ... Williams was denied his 700th career coaching victory. Williams is 699-179. ... North Carolina has won 90 games all-time in the ACC Tournament. Duke has the most with 91. ... North Carolina fell to 8-5 in ACC tournament finals in Greensboro. ... North Carolina will have to win its NCAA Tournament opener to notch its 34th 25-win season. ... Miami won both regular-season meetings -- 68-59 on Jan. 10 in Chapel Hill and 87-61 on Feb. 9 in Coral Gables, Fla.

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