Published March 12, 2011
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Freshman Harrison Barnes had a season-high 40 points as No. 6 North Carolina escaped again at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, rallying past Clemson 92-87 in overtime in Saturday's semifinals.
Barnes hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:13 left as part of a 9-0 spurt to open the extra period, which helped the top-seeded Tar Heels (26-6) complete their second straight comeback from a big deficit. A day after rallying from 19 down in the second half to beat Miami, the Tar Heels trailed the Tigers (21-11) by 14 in the first half and rallied from seven down in the final 4 minutes of regulation to force overtime.
Barnes capped the run with a three-point play, then added his sixth 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 1:14 left. He finished with the most points by any player in the ACC tournament in 16 years and the most by a UNC player in more than four decades.
Barnes finished 12 of 17 from the floor and went 10 for 11 from the foul line, capping his day with a pair of free throws with 8.3 seconds left and the Tar Heels clinging to a 90-87 lead.
John Henson scored 13 of his 18 points after halftime for North Carolina, which reached Sunday's championship game for the first time since beating the Tigers in the final three years ago.
Demontez Stitt scored a career-high 25 points to lead the fourth-seeded Tigers, who appeared in good position to reach only their third final by shutting down Kendall Marshall and the UNC transition game through the first half. But Barnes single-handedly kept North Carolina in it with 16 first-half points, then kept making big shots to thrill a home-state crowd filled with plenty of light blue.
Wake Forest's Randolph Childress was the last player to score 40 in an ACC tourney game, doing it in the 1995 championship win here against North Carolina.
Barnes' 40 points tied him for third-most by a UNC player in the tournament and marked the first time a Tar Heels player scored 40 since Charles Scott had 41 in the 1970 quarterfinals.
A day after they didn't take a lead until Tyler Zeller's layup at the final buzzer, the Tar Heels led for all of 36 seconds in regulation. They rallied to take a one-point lead on Zeller's basket midway through the second half only to see Tanner Smith answer with a 3-pointer to put Clemson back in front.
Smith added another huge 3 with 4:37 left to push the lead to 72-66, but the Tigers didn't manage another basket in regulation. That gave the Tar Heels their opening, with Barnes cutting the gap to 73-71 on a 3 over Milton Jennings before Zeller scored on a hook shot in the lane over Jerai Grant to tie it with 45 seconds left.
Stitt missed a contested shot as the horn sounded on regulation, and Barnes quickly put the Tar Heels ahead for good.
Now, the Tigers will have to wait to find out if they have done enough to reach the NCAA tournament. They rolled past Boston College in Friday's quarterfinals, but let a huge win slip away against UNC despite shooting 50 percent and going 12 for 24 from 3-point range.
Clemson fell to 1-15 against North Carolina in the ACC tournament and 0-18 all-time against the No. 1 seed.