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February 27, 2011

Zeller's ACC career-high leads UNC to win vs. Terps

CHAPEL HILL - In a game in which North Carolina slid into the ACC driver's seat, it seemed like everyone got a chance at the wheel.

Maryland threw up a few speed bumps in the final minutes, but UNC's team-wide success was enough to propel the No. 19 Tar Heels to an 87-76 win against the Terps.

With the victory, the Tar Heels are set up to win the ACC regular-season title outright if they can win at Florida State and at home against Duke to close their slate.

"Now we control our own destiny," UNC point guard Kendall Marshall said. "I like the way we're finding ways to win. We never know how we're going to do it."

The list of where Carolina's production came from was a long one.

UNC's starting big men dominated in the paint, its starting backcourt distributed the ball exquisitely and its wing scorers piled up points.

"I think everyone's settled into their roles," said John Henson, who was three blocked shots shy of a triple-double. "They know what they need to do, and they're doing it."

Tyler Zeller led the Tar Heels (22-6, 12-2 in the ACC) with 25 points, the most he has ever scored in an ACC game.

Though it took 23 field-goal attempts, freshman Harrison Barnes chipped in 21 points, too.

It was the first time all year that Barnes and Zeller scored 20-plus points in the same game.

Henson was a monster inside, scoring 10 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking seven shots. The sophomore, who came in hitting 40 percent of his free throws this season, was even a perfect 4 for 4 from the line.

"John played spectacular basketball tonight," Barnes said.

The fourth Tar Heel in double figures was Leslie McDonald, who scored 15 points off the bench. McDonald, who had made just six field goals in UNC's last four games, was 6-for-10 shooting.

That helped offset the fact that freshman Reggie Bullock, hampered by a sore knee, shot 1 for 8 in seven minutes of action.

Just as impressive as Carolina's scorers were the guys that set them up.

The starting backcourt of Marshall and Dexter Strickland combined for 18 assists and five turnovers.

The pair racked up the 18 assists before either one of them scored a basket - the only field goal between them being a drive by Marshall with eight minutes to go.

"It could have been even better," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "Kendall went to sleep there for a while."

Even with all the nice-looking UNC numbers, the Terps (18-11, 7-7) hung around - thanks in large part to 28 points from Terrell Stoglin - and cut Carolina's second-half lead from 17 to eight in the final minutes.

But just like they've done in so many games this ACC season, the Heels pulled things back together late to come away with the win.

"It takes time to put a team together," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "I don't care how good the players are, it takes time. I think Carolina right now is top 15, top 12 in the country right now. How many teams in the country have won 15 of their last 17? I think Carolina's playing great."

The timing is ideal for Carolina, which is two wins away from an outright ACC title after Duke lost the night before at Virginia Tech.

The fans at the Smith Center knew, starting a chant of "We want Duke!" in the final seconds.

And the players also knew they controlled their own destiny.

"It was the elephant in the room," Marshall said. "(Duke's loss) basically opened the door for us."

But Williams didn't want his team forgetting that there's a trip to Tallahassee before the rematch here with the Blue Devils, potentially for sole ownership of the ACC crown.

"It would mean a great deal, but we'd better be thinking about Florida State, not Duke," he said. "What North Carolina has to do is take care of North Carolina's business."


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