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After failing to match their opponents' intensity in the first two rounds, UNC arrived at Bobcats Arena on Sunday morning willing and ready to move ahead of rival Duke (16) in ACC Tournament title game victories.
The combination of Clemson's fullcourt press and North Carolina's transition offense electrified the crowd from the opening tip, leaving the sellout crowd of 20,035 to collectively take a breath when the first television timeout occurred at the 14:59 mark.
The Tar Heels scored points in transition (6) in first 2 minutes, 45 seconds on Sunday than they were able to muster the entire game against Virginia Tech (4) on Saturday.
Clemson's aggressive pressing style of defense was effective in forcing 20 UNC turnovers – four by the usually sure-handed Ty Lawson – and scoring 27 points off those miscues, but the Tar Heels' offensive machine had the upper hand all afternoon, scoring 34 points in transition.
"I really believe it's very deflating for another team to score and then three or four seconds later, we score and they haven't gained anything except their coach screaming at them about sprinting back – I like that," Williams said about his uptempo offense.
That's where Ellington did most of his damage, connecting on 10 of his 13 field goal attempts from close range, in addition to posting four rebounds, four assists and two steals.
"I thought [Wayne] ran the floor real well against their press," said Hansbrough, who scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds en route to earning ACC Tournament MVP honors. "It opened up a lot of things fast break-wise, because he was running the floor and got a lot of open lay-ups."
Ellington tallied 58 points for the whole weekend after scoring 19 points against Florida State and 15 in the semifinal win over Virginia Tech. Those numbers were good enough to join Hansbrough (who had 66 total points for the tournament) and Marcus Ginyard (10 points, nine rebounds) on the All-Tournament Team.
"I got into a pretty good rhythm from the first day, and I think I just went from there," Ellington said of his play during the tournament. "I am feeling very confident now."
North Carolina trailed Clemson 49-47 early in the second half, but the Tar Heels used a 12-2 spurt and another 7-0 run several minutes later to open up a 72-59 lead with 8:05 left in regulation. The Tigers were able to trim the deficit to 80-76 and had possession of the ball with 2:36 remaining, but were only able to manage one more field goal the rest of the way.
North Carolina held the Tigers to 42 percent shooting on 29-of-69 shooting, and outrebounded its opponent, 49-34. The Tar Heels shot 49.3 percent (34-of-69) on the afternoon, thanks in large part to a 56.7 field goal percentage in the final 20 minutes.
Both teams' post players effectively cancelled each other during the opening 20 minutes, as North Carolina's Hanbrough, Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson combined for 11 points, while Clemson's Trevor Booker, James Mays and Raymond Sykes notched just 10 points.
That set the stage for the shooting guards to put their skills on display, as K.C. Rivers (six steals) scored 15 of his 28 points in the first half in a duel with Ellington (14), resulting in a 39-38 halftime lead for the Tigers.
The ACC Tournament referees continued with their inconsistent officiating during Sunday's title game, refusing to call fouls on hacks that echoed throughout the arena, while blowing the whistle on a few bumps that would not have been called in the 8-9 age division in your local church league.
The end result was 42 fouls called for entire game, including 30 in the second half alone. Neither team capitalized on the charity stripe opportunities, however, combining for the worst free throw shooting percentage in the history of the ACC Tournament's title game – 28-of-50 for 56 percent. Clemson shot 53.8 percent (14-of-26), while UNC connected on just 14-of-24 attempts (58.3 percent) from the line.
North Carolina is now 14-1 against Clemson in ACC Tournament action, and became the 11th team to capture back-to-back conference championships.
"It means a lot, because in this league, it's not guaranteed you are going to win a tournament like this," senior Quentin Thomas said. "There are so many talented teams that are well-coached [in the ACC], but we know that we have a lot of talent."