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March 12, 2011

One-man show

GREENSBORO, N.C. - When Harrison Barnes was standing in front of North Carolina's bench with the basketball less than a minute into overtime, coach Roy Williams called out for a set play.

Luckily for Williams and the top-seeded Tar Heels, Barnes decided to ignore him.

Instead of pulling the ball back out, the freshman hit a 3-pointer - the first of his 14 overtime points - that sparked the Tar Heels to a 92-87 win against fourth-seeded Clemson.

"Great players sometimes take bad coaches on another trip," Williams said.

The trip here was one to the ACC Tournament final, where Carolina (26-6) will take on either Duke or Virginia Tech.

How they got there was not just that three, but pretty much all of Barnes' career-high 40 points, the most ever by a player in an ACC Tournament semifinal.

That play was just a perfect microcosm of how confident Barnes was feeling against the Tigers (21-12) - enough to ignore the instructions of his Hall-of-Fame coach.

"He listens to coach," said forward John Henson, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds. "But sometimes you've got to make a play."

Barnes, for his part, was fairly coy about the exchange after the game, flashing the type of smile you might see on a child who put one over on his parents but got praised for it anyway.

"Coach and I have been back and forth between my shot selection and (his) play-calling," Barnes said in his best attempt at diplomacy. "Coach says a lot of things, but sometimes actions speak louder than words."

UNC point guard Kendall Marshall followed Barnes' make with a three of his own as the Heels scored the first nine points of overtime.

Between that and the end of regulation, Carolina scored 16 consecutive points against the Tigers.

With Carolina trailing by five late, Barnes hit the fourth of his six 3-pointers with 1:22 remaining in regulation.

After a Clemson shot-clock violation, UNC forward Tyler Zeller - who hit the game-winning layup a day earlier against Miami at the buzzer - put in a hook shot to tie the game at 73 with 30 seconds remaining.

Demontez Stitt, who led Clemson with 25 points, missed a jump shot - contested by UNC's Leslie McDonald - as the horn sounded to end regulation.

The Tar Heels held Clemson without a field goal for the final 4:35 of regulation.

For the second day in a row, Carolina had to overcome a double-figure deficit to get the win.

After being down by as many as 14 points, UNC closed the gap in the second half and briefly took the lead midway through the second half before having to claw back again from down seven points in the final minutes.

"It's not going to work forever," Henson said of UNC's come-from-behind mojo.

The Tar Heels' first half, which resulted in a 38-28 halftime deficit, was eerily similar to their first half in the quarterfinal comeback win against Miami.

UNC's first-half numbers were slightly better than in the opening 20 minutes against Miami - eight turnovers instead of 15 and 39 percent shooting instead of 30 - but it also allowed Clemson to shoot almost 56 percent from the field, including 6 of 8 from 3-point range.

The Tigers converted UNC's eight giveaways into 14 points.

And once again, the Tar Heels relied almost exclusively on Barnes for first-half offense. In the first 20 minutes, he was 6-for-9 shooting on his way to 16 of Carolina's 28 points.

The rest of the Tar Heels shot a combined 3 for 14.

But this time, Barnes just continued to carry them on his back, finishing 12 for 17 and grabbing eight rebounds, too.

In the process, he became the first freshman to ever score 40 points in an ACC Tournament game.

He was the first Tar Heel to score 40 since Tyler Hansbrough did it in a regular-season game against Georgia Tech in 2006.

And he was the third Tar Heel to score 40 in an ACC Tournament game, joining Lennie Rosenbluth and Charlie Scott.

"Harrison's in big-time company right there," Williams said.

So how does the freshman do it, put the team on his back and disobey his coach only to make everyone happy in the end?

Marshall summed it up like this: "He's Harrison Barnes."


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