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Tar Heels hold off Virginia Tech 79-76

By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer

ATLANTA (AP) ó Tyler Hansbrough scored 28 points and made a disputed defensive stop in the final seconds as No. 1 North Carolina avoided an upset at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, holding off Virginia Tech 79-76 on Friday.

The Tar Heels, playing without injured ACC player of the year Ty Lawson, got all they could handle from the Hokies.

But Hansbrough scored the go-ahead basket with 36.1 seconds left ó the 12th lead change of the second half ó and then he tied up J.T. Thompson in the lane for a jump ball that gave North Carolina (28-3) possession with 5.2 seconds to go. Coach Seth Greenberg of Virginia Tech (18-14) threw his jacket in disgust, believing Thompson was fouled.

Hansbrough was fouled on the inbounds, made two free throws and A.D. Vassallo, who scored 26 points to lead Virginia Tech, missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.

The Tar Heels avoided the upset bug that already has claimed four of the nation’s top 11 teams. No. 2 Pittsburgh, No. 3 Connecticut, No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 11 Kansas all lost in the opening game of their conference tournaments.

North Carolina looked like the next to fall. Virginia Tech, which knocked off Miami in Thursday’s first round, played with the passion of a team that knew it probably needed at least one more win to earn a spot in the 65-team NCAA field.

The Hokies through most of the first half, before North Carolina rallied for a 43-42 at the break. After the teams swapped the lead nine times in the first 7 minutes of the second half, Vassallo knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers and Virginia Tech pushed the margin as high as six points a couple of times.

But Hansbrough and the Tar Heels fought back. The reigning national player of the year scored 20 points in the second half, continually bulling his way inside to score or draw fouls.

He had to carry more of the load with Lawson on the bench and Danny Green having a miserable game, hitting only 2-of-13 shots to finish with five points. The Tar Heels advanced to face either No. 22 Florida State or Georgia Tech in Saturday’s semifinals.

Lawson was in uniform but didn’t play, the Tar Heels deciding it would be more valuable to ensure the health of his big right toe for the NCAA tournament than risking him in the opening game of their quest for a third straight ACC tournament championship.

The speedy point guard wore a black, stiff-soled shoe on his right foot as he cheered on his teammates from the bench. The ACC said it was the first time the conference’s player of the year missed his team’s tournament opener.

Senior Bobby Frasor took over at point guard and played 37 minutes. He scored only four points, but did have four rebounds, three assists and just one turnover.

Every possession was important. That was apparent early in the second half, when a defensive breakdown allowed North Carolina’s Deon Thompson to score an easy basket.

Greenberg angrily called a timeout and got even madder when his players strolled casually toward the bench. “What are you walking for!” he screamed.

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