Coleman takes over to complete comeback and send No. 15/17 Heels to ACC championship game

Senior Tierra Ruffin-Pratt led the Tar Heels with 20 points. - Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE

UNC came back from down 16 to top Maryland in the ACC tournament semifinals. Alyssa Thomas for the Terps and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt for the Heels were the only players for either side to break 20 points, but what won the game was UNC sophomore Latifah Coleman's incredible stretch of 17 points in the final nine minutes.

North Carolina redshirt sophomore guard Latifah Coleman came out of nowhere and scored 17 of the Tar Heels' last 27 points Saturday afternoon at Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. to eliminate a No. 10 Maryland Terrapin team that had led by as much as 16, and send No. 15/17 UNC to the championship game of the ACC tournament.

Those 17 points of Coleman's came in the final 8 minutes and 59 seconds of the game, a stretch during which No. 3 seed UNC outscored No. 2 seed Maryland, 27-15, in order to pull away and win by a final score of 72-65 in the ACC tournament semifinal showdown and advance to play their archrival Duke in the championship. Coleman did not score a single point before 8:59 remaining in the second half.

Latifah's 3-pointer at 6:03 remaining in the game tied it up at 52 and ended a stretch of nearly 30 straight minutes during which Maryland (24-7) had the lead. The Terps' most comfortable cushion of 16 came with six seconds remaining in the first. UNC (28-5) came out hot in the second half and chipped away the entire period. And for some reason, when Coleman turned it on late, Maryland had no answer and UNC put the game away.

Latifah was also the one to put UNC in the lead with a layup that came 40 seconds after her game-tying three. A three by Maryland sharpshooter Katie Rutan with 2:46 remaining tied the game at 60, but the Terps were never able to regain the lead, thanks to clutch bucket after clutch bucket by Coleman.

The sophomore scored to make it 62-60, and, after an Alyssa Thomas free throw, scored again to make it 64-61. An empty Terp possession after that was all it took for the clock to wind down under one minute, which forced Maryland to start fouling.

Latifah was averaging just 3.4 points per game and 15.6 minutes per game coming into Saturday and actually only played 19 minutes against Maryland, meaning she averaged nearly a point a minute.

Coleman came away with the late-game heriocs, but a couple of UNC's seniors showed up as well. Center Waltiea Rolle recorded a double-double with 19 points and 11 boards, while Tierra Ruffin-Pratt dropped 20 points, which included 10-12 shooting from the free throw line, along with six assists and four steals.

For the Terps, one of the big stories was the fact that Alyssa Thomas followed up her historic performance in the second round with a performance that was almost just as good. For most of the game, she was flirting with what would have been an unheard of second straight triple-double in ACC tournament play. She had 9 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists at the break.

Thomas turned up the scoring in the second half to finish with 26 points and had no problem grabbing four more boards, but dished out just one more assist after the break to fall short of a triple-double. Tianna Hawkins added 14 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double, while Rutan notched 12 points by knocking down four 3-pointers. All 11 of her shots were from beyond the arc.

UNC will face the top-seeded Blue Devils on Sunday at 2 p.m. Duke defeated No. 4 seed Florida State, 72-66, in their semifinal game earlier Saturday afternoon.

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