Something to Play For

After another brilliant performance from the national player of the year, defending ACC tournament champion North Carolina is back in the conference tournament title game. A win would likely give the top-ranked Tar Heels the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and keep them in their home state through at least the first two rounds.

Clemson, meanwhile, doesn't have the same NCAA tournament prospects riding on this game, but for the first time in nearly a half century, the Tigers are playing for the program's first ACC tournament championship.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made North Carolina –5.5 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 64% of bets for this game have been placed on Clemson +5.5 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

Tyler Hansbrough and top-seeded North Carolina try to win their 17th tournament title and potentially lock up the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament as they play third-seeded Clemson in the ACC championship Sunday in Charlotte, N.C.

The Tar Heels (31-2) narrowly avoided an upset in Saturday's semifinals against fourth-seeded Virginia Tech, as they rallied from eight points down in the second half to win 68-66.

With the score tied at 66 and under 10 seconds to go, North Carolina's Ty Lawson drove in for a runner that bounced off the rim. Hansbrough raced through traffic to grab the loose rebound and hit a jumper with 0.8 seconds left for the game winner.

"He definitely finds the ball, no doubt about that,'' said Marcus Ginyard, who had 10 points for North Carolina. "It's never surprising. From the first day I saw him play, I could tell that you've got to get used to expecting stuff like that out of Tyler. It's amazing really to play with somebody that fights so hard and wants to win so bad.''

Hansbrough led the Tar Heels, who have spent 13 weeks atop the AP poll, to the regular-season ACC title and into the conference title game for the 29th time. North Carolina has won 16 conference tournament titles - tied with Duke for the most in the ACC - but has not won back-to-back conference tournament championships since 1997-98.

A second straight ACC tournament title would likely provide the Tar Heels with a favorable draw in the NCAA tournament on the road to the national title in San Antonio. There is a first and second round site in Raleigh, while the East Regional is in the same venue as the ACC tournament - Charlotte Bobcats Arena.

The ACC tournament has traditionally been a lost cause for Clemson (24-8), but that is not the case this season.

The Tigers are the only charter member of the league never to win the tournament title in its 55-year history, but with a 78-74 upset over No. 7 Duke in Saturday's semifinals, Clemson is in the title game for the first time since losing to Wake Forest in 1962.

"I didn't know that,'' Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said. "I knew it was a long time ago and I knew we'd maybe only been in it once and never won it.

"I don't spend a lot of time with streaks with these young guys and that kind of thing. It's this year's team. ... I think those weights are too heavy and insignificant.''

Trevor Booker led Clemson with 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting Saturday, while James Mays scored 16 points and had two three-point plays in an 11-4 run that snapped a 56-all tie.

The Tigers have won five of their last six games, and will likely make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998.

"Right now we're trying to prove something,'' said senior Cliff Hammonds, who finished with 17 points against the Blue Devils. "We're trying to prove we can play with anybody in the country, we can beat anybody in the country.''

The Tigers gave the Tar Heels all they could handle in their two meetings this season, but came up just short each time. Wayne Ellington hit a 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left in overtime for North Carolina's 90-88 victory at Clemson on Jan. 6. The Heels then rallied from a 15-point deficit to win 103-93 in double overtime at Chapel Hill on Feb. 10, improving to 53-0 all-time against Clemson at home.

Ellington had a career-high 36 at Clemson and 28 - his second-highest scoring game - in the second game, and went 10-for-17 from 3-point range overall.

Hansbrough, meanwhile, was limited to a season-low 12 points at Clemson with 14 rebounds, but the All-American willed the Tar Heels to victory in the second game as he scored 13 of his season-high 39 in the first and second overtimes. He finished 11-for-16 from the field and 17-for-19 from the line to go with 13 rebounds.

Hammonds, who is averaging 11.7 points for the Tigers, scored a career-high 31 in the double-overtime loss to the Tar Heels.

North Carolina has won eight straight over Clemson, including an 88-81 victory in the quarterfinals of the 2005 conference tournament. The Tar Heels are 13-1 all-time against the Tigers in the ACC tournament, and have won the last two since their lone loss in 1996.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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