Greensboro, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - The 19th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels eye their first ACC title since 2008 on Saturday when they square off against No. 11 Notre Dame in the championship game at Greensboro Coliseum.
North Carolina, seeded fifth at this tournament, got past Boston College and Louisville before upending top-seeded Virginia in Friday's semifinal. Justin Jackson shot 8-of-10 from the field, made four 3-pointers and scored 22 points to lead the Tar Heels past the Cavaliers, 71-67.
Opponents were shooting an ACC-low 35.6 percent against the Cavaliers, but UNC came out and lit them up at a 54.8 percent clip to reach the ACC title game for the 33rd time.
Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson added 14 and 13 points, respectively, for North Carolina, which has won this event 17 times.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, is in a conference title game for the first time in school history, as it was able to sustain a furious Duke rally on Friday, before holding on for a 74-64 win over the second-seeded Blue Devils.
The Irish nearly blew an 18-popint lead, like they did in the quarterfinals against Miami, but after Duke pulled within four with about three minutes remaining it would not score again.
Bonzie Colson scored 17 points, Demetrius Jackson added 15 points and Jerian Grant totaled 13 points and seven rebounds for the third-seeded Fighting Irish, who did not make it out of the opening round of their inaugural ACC tourney a year ago.
In fact, prior to Friday the Irish had been 0-6 all-time in the semifinals of a league tournament.
This is just the fourth time in the tournament's history that both of the top seeds were knocked out in the semifinals. The last time it happened was 1990, when third-seeded Georgia Tech faced sixth-seeded Virginia in the title game.
Notre Dame and North Carolina met once this season, with the Irish winning, 71-70, on Jan. 5 in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina is a potent offensive team normally, averaging 77.8 ppg, on .474 shooting. Paige, an All-ACC Third-Team selection, leads the team in both scoring (13.6 ppg) and assists (4.6 apg). Johnson (13.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Kennedy Meeks (11.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg) are a strong one-two punch down low. Other key assets include Justin Jackson (10.5 ppg) and J.P. Tokoto (8.4 ppg).
Defensively, though, the Tar Heels leave little to be desired, as they allow 67.8 ppg, the third worst mark in the ACC.
That could be a problem for UNC on Saturday, as Notre Dame lights it up as well as anyone in the conference at 78.5 ppg, second to only Duke. It starts with All-ACC First-Team selection Grant, who entered the postseason averaging 16.8 ppg and an ACC-best 6.7 apg. Grant has reached double-figures in each of the last eight games, which is the longest active streak on the team. Pat Connaughton and Jackson both score 12.6 ppg, while Connaughton leads the team with 7.5 rpg. Zach Auguste is also scoring in double figures at 12.3 ppg with Steve Vasturia looking to join the group at 9.5 ppg.