Duke Gets Another Shot at Tar Heels

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- One week after the Tar Heels denied them the ACC regular season crown, the Blue Devils get the opportunity to face their rivals again with another championship on the line.

No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 2 Duke will face off in the ACC final today at 1 p.m. in a dream matchup that hasn't taken place in the last 10 years.

"It's exciting. Every Duke-Carolina matchup, especially on the ACC Tournament championship stage, is a big deal in the whole area," said Seth Curry, who grew up in Charlotte. "I’m sure the atmosphere tomorrow is going to be real electric and I'm excited to play in it."

The Tar Heels almost didn't hold up their end of the bargain. After coming back from 19 down in the second half to Miami in quarterfinals, North Carolina found itself in a 16-point hole early against Clemson. But the Tar Heels clawed back and mounted a 7-0 run in the final two-and-a-half minutes to send the game to overtime behind the stellar play of ACC Rookie of the Year Harrison Barnes.

Barnes had a whopping 40 points--including 14 in overtime--on 12 made field goals against the Tigers, and scored 16 of North Carolina's 28 points in a lackluster first half. He set the record for scoring by a freshman in the Tournament, as well as a semifinal record, and scored the most points of anyone in the ACC this season.

It was a far cry from the first time the Blue Devils saw Barnes this season in Durham, when a stringent defensive effort spearheaded by Kyle Singler limited the freshman to nine points on 3-of-8 shooting. Barnes was better in Chapel Hill last Saturday, pouring in 18 points, but has really hit his stride in Greensboro.

The forward has been aided by strong production from his entire team. Fellow rookie Kendall Marshall has had at least eight assists in each of the last five games while sophomore forward John Henson has had a double-double in each of those contests, including seven blocks in two Tournament games. Junior center Tyler Zeller has also hit clutch shots for the Tar Heels, making the game-winning layup against Miami and draining a similar shot to tie Clemson at the end of regulation.

"Harrison is a really good player, but if [North Carolina] only had him, they wouldn't be in the championship game," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We're preparing for North Carolina, not just for Barnes."

That preparation will start on the defensive end for the Blue Devils. Duke was embarrassed in Chapel Hill when the Tar Heels put up an unconscionable 51 points in the first half of the regular-season finale, but the team insists it has improved since that poor showing.

"Since then, our defense has been good," senior Nolan Smith said. "I know we can't give up 50 more points in the first half, but we have to play defense."

Duke also faces the tall task of defeating a team that has found every which way to win games in the last month. North Carolina hasn't lost since the two teams' meeting in Durham Feb. 9, and the young team's confidence has grown tremendously since then.

Nevertheless, the Blue Devils relish the opportunity to test their mettle before the NCAA Tournament and to play for another title after failing to win the regular season, something experts had almost deemed a foregone conclusion at the start of the year.

"We wanted to come to this tournament and play the best teams and UNC is obviously playing extraordinarily well," sophomore Ryan Kelly said. "We're excited to be put in a position to play a team that's playing so well.

"It's an honor to be put in a position to play for a championship tomorrow and that’s just another step in us getting ready to play in the NCAA Tournament because we want to win championships. Tomorrow's our first chance to do that."


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