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Off the cuff: That was a bit closer than it needed to be. Poor free throw shooting, bad fouls and careless ballhandling almost cost the Heels. After getting up by 13, it should have been over. But as Tyler Hansbrough said, the Heels "stayed composed and luckily came out with a win."

While Carolina fans should feel more comfortable with Quentin Thomas substituting for Lawson when needed, a few Q goofs really could have changed the outcome. After the Tigers scored eight straight to cut the lead to five, Q turned the ball over but Rivers missed a three that would have cut the lead to just two points. Later, up by four, Q dribbled into trouble in the lane and had to rush up a shot at the end of the shot clock. That time Mays missed a three that would have cut it to one. Q fouled out when he hacked a three-point shooter for no apparent reason with two seconds left. Yes, the game was over but still. At least Danny Green wasn't the only one Coach Williams had to chew out about bonehead plays.

Coach Williams said that while he and the team were ecstatic about winning the tournament, he said that you'll notice that they weren't dancing around and climbing on the backboards in celebration. While it's a good feeling, it's not the feeling the team ultimately wants. As Marcus Ginyard said, "We're not done. We have more nets to cut down."

For old-time fans of the Heels and the ACC tournament, Coach Williams' comments minimizing the importance of the ACC tournament are a bit disconcerting. I know what he's talking about - especially since more than just the tourney champ goes to the NCAA tournament. But a team that wins the ACC regular season and tournament title IS the best team in America, regardless of what happens in the NCAA tournament. That's not to minimize winning the NCAA tourney and now of course that's the most important thing. I still think I'd rather go something like 35-2, win the ACC regular season and the ACC tournament than go 26-14, finish down in the league, and happen to win six games in a row at the end of the season. I know, I know, I'm in the minority.

Interesting that the committee put Tennessee in the East Regional with the Heels. The Vols might have strong fan support with a game in Charlotte, potentially against the Heels. But if the Vols are the fifth best team in the country, they should have gotten a weaker No. 1 team to play.

Heels 86, Tigers 81
Tar Heels overcome Clemson pressure to win ACC title

Carolina finally solved Clemson's full-court pressure defense and survived a poor free-throw shooting effort to hang on to an 86-81 victory over Clemson, giving the Heels back-to-back ACC tournament titles. (3/16)

"It prepares us (for the NCAAs) because we know in the tournament every team is going to be tough," Hansbrough said. "These teams played really tough and they were really aggressive. I think we did well and that's the kind of atmosphere we'll face in the tournament."

Carolina was selected as the overall No. 1 team in the NCAA tournament and will play in the East Regional in Raleigh Friday against the winner of the play-in game between Mount St. Mary's and Coppin State. The top four in the region are Carolina, Tennessee, Louisville and Washington State.

Against Clemson, the Tar Heels, who turned the ball over 20 times, trailed the Tigers for the third time this year at the half, 39-38. The Tigers' 14 steals had Carolina on their Heels.

However, the Tar Heels made the Tigers pay for the aggressive defense by getting it past them for fast-break buckets. Trailing 49-47 following a three by Clemson's K.C. Rivers, who led the Tigers with 28 points, Carolina came right back with a fast-break lay up by Wayne Ellington, who drew a foul and sank the free throw to give the Heels a 50-49 lead.

That started an 8-0 Carolina run that put the Heels up 55-49 and Carolina never trailed again, although it got tense in the last five minutes.

A 7-0 Carolina run extended the lead to 13 at 72-59 with eight minutes to go. That run was highlighted by a baseline drive by Ty Lawson, who showed the old speed fans were used to prior to his ankle injury, and a three by Danny Green over a rare Clemson zone.

But the Tigers came out after a TV timeout to score eight quick points, including a pair of threes by Rivers, who went six of 12 from behind the arc. During that stretch, Deon Thompson missed a dunk and the Heels turned it over twice.

A bucket by Tyler Hansbrough inside put the Heels up 76-68 with 5:18 left. That was the last field goal the Heels would make as they had to hang on at the free throw line. UNC did not look like the second best free throw shooting team in the league as they sank only 10 of 16 the rest of the way.

Clemson managed to cut the lead to 81-77 with 1:41 to go but Ellington hit one of two free throws and Lawson sank two to make it 84-77 with 25 seconds left to wrap it up. The Tar Heels scored only 14 of 24 from the line.

Ellington had the hot hand for the Heels as he went 10 of 14 for 24 points. Hansbrough scored 18 and had 11 rebounds. Danny Green, who fouled out with six minutes to go after playing just 17 minutes, scored 12 points. Lawson also scored 12 and had eight assists. Ginyard scored 10 and had nine rebounds.

Hansbrough, the tourney's MVP, Ellington and Ginyard all made the all-tournament team. Rivers and Trevor Booker of Clemson also made the squad.

The Tar Heels are now 32-2 heading into the NCAA tournament. Since losing in last year's NCAA regionals to Georgetown in a game many thought the Heels should have had wrapped up, Carolina has been a team on a mission. The Tigers, who had not been in the ACC finals since 1962, fall to 24-9 and will also be in the NCAA tourney as a fifth seed, opening Friday against Villanova.

ACC tournament semi-finals vs. Virginia Tech
ACC tournament first round game vs. Florida State
Check out the game box score and a game photo gallery.
Take a look at other game articles.
Read my Tar Heels' season preview on WRAL.com by clicking here.

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