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March 10, 2012A week ago, North Carolina avenged its most painful loss of the season when it defeated Duke 88-70 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on senior night, finishing first in the final regular-season standings.
The Blue Devils (27-6) came from 10 points down with 2 minutes and 30 seconds left in the mid-conference season game at the Smith Center to stun UNC 85-84 on a deep, last-second jump shot by freshman Austin Rivers.
Now the fourth-ranked Tar Heels (28-4) will get the chance to avenge its most embarrassing loss of the season on Sunday at 1 p.m. when it plays 17th-ranked Florida State (23-9) in the ACC Tournament at Phillips Arena in Atlanta for the official ACC championship.
The tournament is the team that receives the ACC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Tar Heels understand as well as anyone just how good the Seminoles are after FSU humiliated Carolina 90-57 in Tallahassee on Jan 14. The beating was so sound UNC coach Roy Williams left the floor with his team while the walk-ons finished the game.
"With Florida State, you're going to get toughness, you're going to get gritty defense," said point sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall, who went 5-of-8 from the field, scored 12 points and passed 10 assists to go with four rebounds.
"When they're playing well offensively," Marshall said, "they are one of the toughest teams in the country to beat."
Williams and his team will have to stay on the floor this time, no matter what happens. Predicting what will happen is even harder if Henson cannot play. Henson hurt his left hand when he fell on it early in Friday's quarterfinal round game against Maryland.
Henson's absence showed in Saturday's game. The Wolfpack got to the bucket much more than they had been able to do in either of the previous two games this season. The Wolfpack had 36 points in the paint compared to 34 for UNC.
State also ran more effectively on Saturday. The Wolfpack scored 17 points on fast breaks, compared to 7 for Carolina.
Freshman James Michael McAdoo played well in Henson's absence the last two games. He scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 29 minutes during Friday's 85-69 victory against Maryland. He also had eight rebounds.
He got into foul trouble with four against the Wolfpack, but he also scored nine points, got four rebounds and made a steal against the Wolfpack.
"James Michael is a fantastic player. It took a little getting used to in the beginning. Little things, mainly. Different situations where I knew John would normally be there. But we just had to make a few adjustments, and after that, James Michael did a fantastic job of filling in."
If Henson cannot go, UNC will need him to try to play extended minutes without getting into foul trouble.
More than any other team in the league, the Seminoles can match Carolina with its size and strength.
They also have the best perimeter defender in guard Michael Snaer who can also score. There is a good chance Reggie Bullock will get the assignment of guarding Snaer. Bullock has length at 6 feet 7 with long arms, and he proven to be an excellent defender who can fight through screens.
What the Tar Heels could really use is an excellent performance both ends from Harrison Barnes. Barnes could drift out and shoot some jump shots to make tougher on the interior defender charged with guarding him, and then he could work off of that and drive to the basket.
Barnes scored 16 points against N.C. State, but he only went 3-of-12 from the field. He also had four turnovers and appears to be missing from a mental standpoint. If the Tar Heels are going to win th ACC title and move forward with strength, Barnes is going to have to perform with more intensity.
That should not be a problem. The Tar Heels will be trying to become as this is for the title of ACC champion.
"It's a great feeling, anytime you are playing for a championship," Zeller said.
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