Atlanta, GA – The fifth-seeded NC State Wolfpack will try to seeded North Carolina Tar Heels a trip back to the championship game when the two square off in the semifinals of the 2012 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament at Philips Arena.
The Wolfpack did not fare too well against UNC in the regular season, as they lost both portions of the home and home series. The Tar Heels defeated NC State, 74-55, on Jan. 26 in Chapel Hill, and then by a score of 86-74 in Raleigh on Feb. 21. UNC holds a 146-75 lead in its rivalry with NC State.
NC State was desperate for a win entering the conference tourney. The Wolfpack have been able to string together back-to-back wins over Boston College and Virginia the past two days to remain in the hunt not only for an NCAA-at large bid, but also the ACC Conference Tournament title. Although NC State's 10 tournament titles is the third most in the league, it has not been crowned tournament champion since 1987. Coach Mark Gottfried had his team ready to play on Friday, as it managed to score 67 points against Virginia's stifling defense which has allowed an ACC-best average of only 53.7 ppg.
UNC used a balanced effort to defeat the eighth-seeded Maryland Terrapins, 85-69, in their postseason debut on Friday. The 4th ranked Tar Heels are expected to earn a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Friday's win was the eighth in a row for the Tar Heels, who lost in the 2011 ACC Tournament championship game. Coach Roy Williams has one of the best teams in the nation, as it averages an ACC-best 82.4 ppg and placed three players on the All-ACC First Team. Despite the victory on Friday, the Tar Heels took a blow when their starting forward and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year John Henson sprained his wrist. Henson attempted to comeback into the game, but only lasted another minute before exiting for good. He is listed as questionable for this contest.
The Wolfpack's leading scorer C.J. Leslie will benefit greatly if Henson is unable to play. Leslie was excellent on Friday as he made 9-of-11 shots from the floor to net a team-high 19 points, which he accompanied with 14 rebounds. NC State's other starting forward, Scott Wood, had a strong showing in the team's win over Boston College on Thursday as he drained five three-pointers to score 22 points. Lorenzo Brown has had a great sophomore year running the point for the Wolfpack. Brown has averaged 13.5 points and eight assists in his first two games of the ACC Tournament.
While Brown's sophomore campaign has been good, UNC's Kendall Marshall's has been great. The Tar Heels' point guard broke the historic program's single- season record for assists as he averaged 9.6 along the way. Marshall's passing ability has recently been joined by a strong scoring effort as well, which makes UNC's point guard one of the most dangerous players in the nation. A big reason for his success in distributing the ball at such a high rate has been the strong production of his teammates Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes. Zeller earned the 2012 ACC Player of the Year award after a superb senior season, while Barnes led the team with 17.3 ppg.