NCAA basketball: At ACC tournament, Tyler Zeller sends UNC basketball past Miami

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 1:07 AM

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Plagued by turnovers and undercut by a casual approach, top-seeded North Carolina narrowly avoided getting bounced from the ACC tournament on Friday by a team that had pulled off the impossible the day before.

But with one-tenth of a second remaining, Tyler Zeller's layup gave the Tar Heels a 61-59 victory over ninth-seeded Miami that propelled North Carolina into the tournament's semifinals, where it will face Clemson.

That tiny sliver of a second was the only stretch of a lopsided and often-sloppy game in which the Tar Heels led. North Carolina (25-6) trailed by nine points at the half after turning over the ball 15 times in the 20-minute span. With just less than 10 minutes left in the game, the Tar Heels were 19 points behind.

But the momentum turned after North Carolina Coach Roy Williams switched to a smaller lineup that proved more difficult to guard and more capable of answering Miami's barrage of three-pointers.

Guards Kendall Marshall and Leslie McDonald and forward Harrison Barnes made four three-pointers in a two-minute span, reeling off 12 unanswered points to pull North Carolina to 55-51 with 5 minutes 13 seconds remaining.

From that point on, the magic that Miami had conjured on Thursday against Virginia - erasing a 10-point deficit in 21 seconds to force overtime and topple the Cavaliers - was nowhere to be found.

Williams credited good fortune.

"We were as lucky as we could possibly be," Williams said. "Those things happen at tournament time."

The Hurricanes missed wide-open shots from the perimeter. They choked on layups. They clanged free throws off the rim.

And North Carolina played on as if its victory were preordained, cheered by a wildly partisan crowd of 23,381, with Marshall calmly in command of the offense.

A Miami turnover put the ball in Marshall's hands for the final possession. And when the Hurricanes' defense fixed on Barnes, the likely candidate to attempt the game-winner, Marshall fired the ball to Zeller instead. The 7-foot center levitated for the layup that clinched it.

"I had to shoot it as fast as possible," Zeller said. "I knew as soon as I let it go that I had gotten it off in time because I knew the buzzer had gone off after it left my hand."

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