GREENSBORO, N.C. — Durand Scott knocked down the shots to turn away North Carolina State's best pushes, and Shane Larkin provided the steady floor leadership that kept ninth-ranked Miami in control.
The backcourt that guided the Hurricanes to their first Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship now has them positioned to add the tournament title, too.
Scott scored a career-high 32 points to help the Hurricanes beat the Wolfpack 81-71 on Saturday in the ACC Tournament semifinals, earning the program's first trip to the final.
Larkin added 23 for the top-seeded Hurricanes (26-6), who before Saturday had reached the ACC semifinals just once before - as a No. 12 seed making a surprise run before falling to eventual national champion Duke in 2010. Now they're heading to today's final to face third-seeded North Carolina, which beat Maryland in the other semifinal.
"We're a very hungry team, and we want more and more," Larkin said. "We're not satisfied with winning the regular season. We want the ACC championship, and then eventually we want to make the national championship game. We're hungry, and we're not going to settle for anything less."
Miami led all day and by 19 points late in the first half against the fifth-seeded Wolfpack (24-10), who got within six after halftime but couldn't dig out of that big hole.
Scott had a lot to do with that. The senior guard went 12 for 18 from the field and 5 for 8 from 3-point range to keep draining the energy from a home-state crowd wearing plenty of red.
Scott scored 19 points in the first half, the last coming on two free throws for Miami's biggest lead at 39-20. N.C. State cut the deficit to 12 at half then 50-44 on Scott Wood's 3-pointer with 12 minutes left to re-energize a crowd that had gone silent with Miami's early dominance.
But Scott answered with a straightaway 3, holding his release long after the ball swished through the net. Then Larkin banked in a pullup shot to push the margin back to double figures.
Scott did it again a few minutes later, hitting a 3 over freshman Rodney Purvis as the shot clock wound down then holding his form again as the Hurricanes went up 13 with 7½ minutes left. That was his last basket before fouling out with 1:53 left.
"I thought we turned it around in the second half," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. "But we were just in too big of a hole and they were pretty good as far as holding us off."
Wood scored 21 points, hitting six 3s, to lead N.C. State, which was in the semifinals for the second straight season. But Gottfried's team ran into a No. 1 seed each time that denied the Wolfpack a chance at the program's first tournament title since 1987 under Jim Valvano.
NORTH CAROLINA 79,
North Carolina and its four-guard lineup have a chance at another ACC championship - thanks in part to a Maryland guard whose last-gasp shot fell way short.
Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock scored 15 points apiece, and the Tar Heels held on to beat the Terrapins 79-76 on Saturday in the league tournament semifinals.
Next up: a meeting today with No. 9 Miami, the tournament's top seed, with North Carolina's 18th league tournament title on the line.
The Hurricanes' regular-season sweep included a humiliating 26-point win last month at Miami that led coach Roy Williams to make P.J. Hairston a starter and play with a smaller, quicker group.
"They haven't seen us with our new lineup yet," Bullock said. "We just have to get our face back. They definitely embarrassed us when we went down there ... and for us to have the opportunity to play against them on the last night before we go to the NCAA tournament is great."
Hairston scored 13 points despite a heavily wrapped and injured left (non-shooting) hand for the third-seeded Tar Heels (24-9), but his missed free throw with 16 seconds left gave Maryland a chance to force overtime.
The Terps called time out with 10.9 seconds left, and Logan Aronhalt took the inbounds pass from Nick Faust and immediately launched a 30-foot airball.
Bullock snatched the ball and passed to Hairston, who was alone near midcourt, and the Tar Heels ran out the clock to clinch their league-record 32nd appearance in the title game.
Faust said the plan was to get the ball to Aronhalt - a 44 percent 3-point shooter - with tournament MVP candidate Dez Wells the decoy. The Terps wanted to get a 3-pointer off before the Tar Heels could foul them and send them to the line for two shots.
"It was designed for me to get a 3. I just came off the screen a little too far away from the 3-point line," Aronhalt said. "The shot was just too deep. ... I knew immediately it wasn't going in."
Alex Len had 20 points to lead seventh-seeded Maryland (22-12), which knocked off No. 2 Duke less than 24 hours earlier in the quarterfinals and nearly pulled off another upset.
The Terrapins trailed by 10 with just over 7 minutes left before rallying to make things tight down the stretch.
"The amazing thing was that we put ourselves in the position to have that chance," coach Mark Turgeon said.
But every time they got too close, North Carolina had an answer.
Twice in the final 3 minutes, freshman guard Marcus Paige followed a Maryland basket by hitting a clutch shot of his own.
"He knows what type of shooter he is, and you're not going to make all your shots," Strickland said of Paige. "But he fought through it; he stepped up tonight and made some big shots for us."
Paige's jumper with 2:49 left came after Len cut the Tar Heels' lead to 71-70. And after Wells hit a layup to pull the Terps to 75-72 with 1:08 left, Paige drove the baseline for a pretty layup that put North Carolina back up by five with 36.5 seconds left.
He and Wells traded free throws in a 3-second span, and Aronhalt's stickback with 17.3 seconds left pulled Maryland to 78-76. Hairston then hit 1 of 2 free throws 1.3 seconds later.
Big man James Michael McAdoo also finished with 13 points for the Tar Heels, who improved to 8-2 since inserting Hairston in the starting lineup and playing with four guards.
Their only losses in that span came to a Duke team that had already been knocked out of the tournament by these Terrapins, and now they'll test themselves against the regular-season champion Hurricanes.
"I know we can play a heck of a lot better," Williams said. "And we have to (be) a lot better getting ready to play somebody who's beaten us twice by about 8 million points."