Pack falls in ACC Championship game

No. 10 seed NC State fought back from a 14-point deficit to cut the lead to one, but No. 1 seed North Carolina shot 58% from the field and hit 23-of-24 free throws to win the ACC Championship, 89-80.

For one weekend, NC State captured the attention of the entire basketball world. With each upset, Sidney Lowe and his now famous red coat found more believers in the Wolfpack cause.

And when Courtney Fells nailed a jumper to pull within a point of one of the deepest and most talented teams in the nation, it looked like this Wolfpack team might be destined to pull off the greatest run in ACC Tournament history.

But destiny wouldn't cooperate this time, as North Carolina kept sinking free-throws and hitting shots to stay in front. The No. 10 seed Wolfpack failed to pull of its fourth-straight upset in four days, falling 89-80 to No. 1 seed Carolina in the ACC Championship game on Sunday afternoon in Tampa.

"These guys are absolutely amazing," Lowe said. "What they did this weekend, I don't think too many people thought they could do it."

"With every day that we won the confidence grew. I've never been around a group of guys – not just what they did but how they did it."

The Pack fought till the final buzzer, coming back from a 16-point second-half deficit to pull within a point. State shot 55 percent from the floor and matched the Tar Heels on the glass, but committed 15 turnovers that led to 22 points for the Heels.

"You have to admire and respect what [NC State] did, coming and playing for four days was phenomenal," Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

Brandon Costner led the way for the Pack again, putting together his third spectacular game in four days with 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting. Fells added 18 points and six rebounds, Ben McCauley put in 12 points and seven rebounds and Gavin Grant also scored in double-figures with 10 points. Costner scored a combined 90 points in four games for the Pack. Grant and Costner earned first-team All-Tournament honors, while Engin Atsur, McCauley and Fells made the second team.

Atsur, who tweaked his problematic hamstring in Saturday's win over Virginia Tech, gutted out 32 minutes of inspiring play. Unable to get off his shot because of his leg, the senior helped slow down tempo and run the offense for the Pack.

"Obviously I don't feel great, but I was out there to just try to compete and do whatever I can to slow the tempo down," Atsur said. "Just be a leader out there, that's what I was trying to do."

The Heels shot and incredible 23-of-24 from the free throw line, preventing any Wolfpack comeback hopes in the last minute of the game. Carolina hit their first 20 shots from the charity stripe before Ty Lawson missed with 30 second left. Every Carolina starter scored in double figures, led by Everett Case Award winner Brandan Wright with 16 points.

The Pack stayed right with the Tar Heels through most of the first half, taking as much as a six-point lead at the 13 minute mark. But Carolina heated up late in the half, going on a 10-2 tear over the final two minutes to open up an 42-34 halftime lead.

The Heels stretched the lead to 16 at the start of the second half, as the Pack continued to turn the ball over and Carolina kept up its torrid shooting. But the Pack, as they've done all tournament, refused to fold the tents and go home.

Instead they fought back, grinding the lead back into single-digits. State converted from the line and got easy looks on the inside to help the comeback attempt. State got it all the way down to a one-point lead when Fells hit a running jumper on the wing with five minutes left in the game.

"We started to a better job of being patient and reading what they were doing," Lowe said. "During that stretch I think you saw the ball moving a little better from side-to-side and we were able to get some open looks."

Despite hanging close for the rest of the game, the Pack would never tie or take the lead. Carolina stretched the lead out to seven points with just under a minute remaining, and the Heels calmly sank their free throws down the stretch to steal the Pack's ACC Championship and NCAA Tournament hopes.

"I am so proud of our guys and the way we preformed this entire weekend," Lowe said. "How we came out and played and got to this point. I told our guys you can be hurt, but don't be disappointed – there's nothing to be disappointed about."

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