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UNC hangs on to beat Maryland 79-76 in ACC semis

AP - Sports
UNC hangs on to beat Maryland 79-76 in ACC semis
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North Carolina's Dexter Strickland, left, passes the ball past Maryland's Alex Len, right, and Jake Layman, …

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock scored 15 points apiece and North Carolina held on to beat Maryland 79-76 on Saturday in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals.

P.J. Hairston scored 13 points despite a heavily wrapped and injured left (non-shooting) hand for the third-seeded Tar Heels (24-9), but his missed free throw with 16 seconds left gave Maryland a chance to force overtime.

The Terps called time out with 10.9 seconds left, and Logan Aronhalt took the inbounds pass and immediately launched an off-balance 30-foot airball.

Bullock snatched the ball and passed to Hairston, who was all alone near midcourt, and the Tar Heels ran out the clock to clinch their league-record 32nd appearance in the title game.

Next up: a meeting with No. 9 Miami, the tournament's top seed, on Sunday with North Carolina's 18th league tournament title on the line. The Hurricanes' regular-season sweep included a humiliating 26-point win last month at Miami.

Alex Len had 20 points to lead seventh-seeded Maryland (22-12), which knocked off No. 2 Duke less than 24 hours earlier in the quarterfinals and nearly pulled off another upset.

The Terrapins trailed by 10 with just over 7 minutes left before rallying to make things tight down the stretch.

But every time they got too close, North Carolina had an answer.

Twice in the final 3 minutes, freshman guard Marcus Paige followed a Maryland basket by hitting a clutch shot of his own.

His jumper with 2:49 left came after Len cut the Tar Heels' lead to 71-70. And after Dez Wells hit a layup to pull the Terps to 75-72 with 1:08 left, Paige drove the baseline for a pretty layup that put North Carolina back up by five with 36.5 seconds left.

He and Wells traded free throws in a 3-second span, and Aronhalt's stickback with 17.3 seconds left pulled Maryland to 78-76. Hairston then hit 1 of 2 free throws 1.3 seconds later.

Big man James Michael McAdoo also finished with 13 points for the Tar Heels, who improved to 8-2 since inserting Hairston in the starting lineup and playing with four guards.

Their only losses in that span came to a Duke team that had already been knocked out of the tournament by these Terrapins.

Nick Faust added 17 points with five 3-pointers for Maryland while Wells - the Xavier transfer who emerged as a leading tournament MVP candidate while averaging 25.5 points in wins over Wake Forest and Duke - finished with 15 on 6-of-15 shooting.

He showed some frustration when his reverse layup with about 17 minutes left rimmed out, extending and waving both arms in disbelief.

A few seconds later, Bullock buried a short jumper and the Tar Heels matched their largest lead to that point, 47-35. Their largest lead came with 11:28 left when Leslie McDonald's free throw made it 58-45.

Hairston finished 3 of 10 and was 2 of 8 behind the 3-point line in 36 minutes - but that he even played at all was remarkable.

He needed eight stitches to close a wound that split the night before against Florida State when the ball jammed between his fingers.

He was a game-time decision but warmed up - and started - with the two fingers bound together with a splint and tape covering most of his hand, and he showed no obvious signs of discomfort.

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Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at (at)JoedyAP.

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