The Tar Heels finished in a third place tie in the ACC regular season standings, lost more games than either Duke or Xavier and suffered the single most damaging loss among the three teams, a home loss to Wofford on December 20. By losing the last two regular-season games, North Carolina slipped out of double-bye position in the ACC standings to the sixth seed.
Those extra points came in handy later in the game when UNC went into survival mode.
"You know, a year ago we lost this game that's going to be played (Friday)", Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said, per ESPN. "And I think that's important for us to continue, especially against their team". "You see tonight, I think it was multiple times, guys had shots and they were looking for their teammates".
Through sheer willpower and emotion, the undersized Tar Heels (25-9, 14-7 ACC) held the Blue Devils well below that season average to punch their ticket into Saturday's ACC Title Game.
"It's just another thing I can say I've been through", Tar Heels senior guard Theo Pinson said.
"That's not the first time I've been in a situation where I had to hold the ball, but it's the first time I lost it like that", Pinson said. "I've been here four years". "That was a big-time game tonight".More news: Snapchat is Testing User Tagging in Snaps, Just Like on Instagram
"My teammates are going to be ready. So we've got to go in there and try to play the flawless game and play as close as we can possibly play to that, then we'll have a chance to win". "At the same time, you've got to keep playing".
Both teams are on a roll. The Blue Devils won the most recent matchup 74-64. Carolina is 8-2 over its last 10 contests.
Star freshman Marvin Bagley III was able to put together his usual high-level production for Duke-posting 19 points and 13 rebounds-but as a team, the Blue Devils shot just 42 percent from the floor and made only six three-pointers. The Cavaliers actually got tested for a while in the first half against Clemson. In the last calendar year there were the epic NCAA Tournament wins over Arkansas and Kentucky, a comeback to win at Tennessee this season, rallying to beat Wake Forest in the ACC opener, exploding in the second half to beat Duke in Chapel Hill or just Thursday, overcoming a 14-0 deficit out of the gate against Miami. Redick in 2003 and matched by Bagley earlier this season.
"Bagley, well, he was just the first pick in the (NBA) Draft", Brey said after the game. UNC lost to the Cavaliers, 61-49, back in January in Charlottesville, in a game that saw them commit 19 turnovers. The Blue Devils on the other hand, besides a loss to Virginia Tech, looked like they were ready to make a run. It was the second straight ACC Tournament night the Tar Heels had trouble finding the basket. "So we have to limit our turnovers and make sure that we're getting great shots on the offensive end". What's more, the Tar Heels would have amassed an incredible seven wins over teams projected to be seeded fifth or better in the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils have more ACC Tournament titles than any other school and has the second-most semifinal (46) and finals (32) appearances.
Duke and North Carolina have been the dominant programs in the ACC for a long time.