WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rashad McCants followed his North Carolina
teammates through the tunnel toward the locker room, wearing a
stunned look while biting the front of his white jersey.
The second-ranked Tar Heels had just lost 78-75 to Georgia Tech
in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals Saturday
after McCants missed a 3-pointer that would have forced overtime.
The North Carolina guard let out a groan and let the jersey fall
from his teeth.
"You know," he said with a sigh, "that was supposed to go
The top-seeded Tar Heels were supposed to win their first ACC
title since 1998, but that didn't happen, either.
Will Bynum scored a career-high 35 points, and the fifth-seeded
Yellow Jackets advanced to the ACC championship game with a
stunning upset of the league's regular-season champions.
Did somebody say upset?
"This was no upset out here today. I want to make that point
clear," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "These are two great
teams, and our team, being a team that I think has accomplished a
lot at big moments ... to be written off was kind of amusing to me."
After Bynum capped his magnificent performance by making two
foul shots with nine seconds left, McCants' 3-point try bounced off
the front of the rim and into the waiting arms of Tech's Jarred
Jack, who clutched the ball until time expired.
The Yellow Jackets celebrated, but with a good measure of
"It's not a surprise, it's not a shock to us," Jack said. "We
knew we could come in here and compete with any team in our
conference, as well as any team in the country."
Thanks to Bynum, whose 35 points is the most by a Georgia Tech
player in the ACC tournament, surpassing the 33 by Mark Price
against Virginia in 1983.
"It was big, but I would rather have scored two and won
anyway," a teary-eyed Bynum said at the post-game news conference.
"As long as we get the win, that's what counts."
At that point, Hewitt interjected, "It was fun watching the 35,
I'll tell you."
Georgia Tech, which lost to North Carolina by 22 during the
regular season, will play for the league title Sunday against Duke.
The Yellow Jackets (19-10) will compete in the championship game
for the first time since 1996 and will be seeking their first ACC
crown in 12 years.
North Carolina (27-4) will head home after finishing alone atop
the regular-season standings for the first time since 1993. No team
has won more ACC titles than the Tar Heels (15), but North Carolina
has now gone seven years without one.
"I think we got fat and happy. We just didn't get the job
done," said center Sean May, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds.
"The good thing is we have a few days before the NCAA tournament
to get things going again."
The Tar Heels will likely be a No. 1 seed in that tournament,
McCants and Raymond Felton had 17 points apiece for North
Carolina, which came in with an eight-game winning streak.
Luke Schenscher had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Georgia Tech,
which lost in the second round of the ACC tournament last year but
advanced to the national championship game. Their success this
weekend has assured the Yellow Jackets of a return trip to the NCAA
"We still think of ourselves as one of the best teams in the
nation," Schenscher said. "We wanted to come out here and prove
it in the tournament. We're doing that so far."
Down 42-36 at the break, North Carolina rode the play of the
suddenly aggressive May to get back into it. The 6-foot-9 center
opened the second half with a follow after battling the 7-1
Schenscher under the basket, then added a layup and jumper off the
glass during a 9-4 spurt that got the Tar Heels to 46-45.
Minutes later, May made a tip-in and a 5-foot hook shot to put
North Carolina up 51-50, its first lead since 18-17. Bynum then
scored 11 of Tech's next 15 points to make it 65-60, and the Yellow
Jackets maintained their tenuous lead to the finish.
Bynum, who scored 23 in the second half, finished 10-for-21 from
the field and 10-for-12 at the line. He also made half his 10
attempts from beyond the 3-point line.
"Once I made my first 3, I pretty much felt good the rest of
the way," he said. "It opened for me driving to the hole."
There were three ties and three lead changes in the opening
seven minutes, a strong indication that this would be a closer game
than when the teams met in January. On that day, North Carolina
built a 16-point halftime lead and cruised to a 91-69 victory.
The rematch was no mismatch.