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February 29, 2012

Z finishes with flair

Tyler Zeller gave a senior-night performance that should enhance his credentials to be the ACC player of the year.

Sixth-ranked UNC defeated Maryland 88-64 in the final regular-season home game of the year, and Zeller made the most of the occasion by scoring 30 points.

"That was a storybook finish," teammate John Henson said of Zeller. "I haven't scored 30 points ever. It was great to see him go out as a senior like that.

"They were reading off his accomplishments [after the game]. I was sitting there in amazement because he does so many great things on the court for us."

Zeller went 20-of-23 from the free-throw line, the second-most ever by a UNC player and tied for third-most by any Atlantic Coast Conference player.

"I thought Carolina was great, especially Zeller," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "We couldn't guard him all night. He kept drawing fouls on us. He controlled the game at the foul line.

"We didn't have a post guy who took on the challenge all night. Zeller is pretty crafty at getting in there and drawing fouls and doing the things he needs to do. He can score in a variety of ways."

Zeller's aggressive play around the basket helped to foul out Maryland's Alex Len and Ashton Pankey.

"You start playing soft because you're trying not to foul, and then you end up fouling," Turgeon said. "Then they're getting three-point plays out of it. The bottom just fell out. We just kept fouling them."

The Tar Heels (26-4, 13-2 in the ACC) will play at Duke (26-4, 13-2) at 7 p.m. on Saturday, with the winner finishing atop the regular-season standings and the loser in second place.

This will be the seventh time in ACC history that Carolina and Duke have played for the winner-take-all in regular-season finale. UNC is 4-2 in those games, having won the last two times (2008 and 2011).

"It should be a great game," Zeller said. "We had them here and gave it away in the end. Hopefully we can be even more prepared this time going in. We'll just have to see how we can do."

As for his final home game, Zeller added eight rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals to brighten his performance even further.

"I think I made a lot of good moves and kept them off balance," Zeller said. "But I got kind of frustrated because of couldn't finish the 'and-ones,' which I'm normally very good at. I kept leaving them short."

Zeller acknowledged he is in the running to be the player of the year. That honor would ensure his jersey is hung from the rafters among the other honored jerseys.

"It would be a fantastic honor to be able to win that," Zeller said. "At the same time, it's a team sport. We just have to go out and help my team win anyway possible."

UNC point guard Kendall Marshall set a record of his own. His eight assists against just one turnover vaulted Marshall into first place with the most single-season assists in school history.

His 289 passes Ed Cota's 284. Marshall is now tied with former Duke point guard Bobby Hurley for third on the single-season list.

"It's off the charts when you think about the fact that we haven't shot it very well," Coach Roy Williams. "To have that many assists … he's been phenomenal, getting the ball to people, getting the ball to the right people."

Henson had a marvelous night as well. He scored 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds, blocked three shots and made two steals.

Turgeon said Zeller and Henson give Carolina a pair of weapons that makes UNC tough to handle at either end of the court.

"They're so long," Turgeon said. "You get by one, and there is the other one. They can both score so well. They can both pass well. It's their length and skill that makes them pretty special. They're pretty smart basketball players, too."


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