Tar Heels rally again as Barnes scores 40 — a promising sign

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Yesterday, No. 6 North Carolina had to come back from a 19 point deficit in the final 10 minutes to avoid an upset at the hands of Miami.

Today, the comeback wasn’t as drastic — they were down 14 points in the first half and seven with two minutes left — but the Heels once again needed some late game heroics for a 92-87 overtime win vs. Clemson in the ACC tournament semifinals. This time, it was a Harrison Barnes three with a minute left followed by a jump hook by Zeller with 30 seconds left that forced overtime. Barnes and Kendall Marshall hit back to back threes to open up the overtime period, and when the smoke cleared the Heels had gone on a 16-0 run and held an 82-73 lead.

If Barnes’ play down the stretch didn’t convince you that he was worth the preseason hype, then he certainly did it today. Barnes scored 16 of UNC’s 28 points in the first half and finished with 40, his career-high, a record for freshman in the ACC Tournament, and the most points scored by anyone in the tournament since Randolph Childress had 40 in 1995.

He’s the real thing.

And so are the Heels.

Look, I know that they got down to Clemson and Miami. But in the postseason, never underestimate the value of a team playing for their season. This is a young UNC team with all of their key pieces playing their first major minutes in postseason games that people actually pay attention to. Slow starts shouldn’t be as worrisome of the big clutches and execution in the clutch is promising.

Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall are calmly making big plays down the stretch. John Henson is as active and disruptive as he has been all season long. And, obviously, Barnes is playing his best basketball of the season.

The Tar Heels need to start games better — that is obvious — but the way they have closed out the past two games should give Tar Heel fans the comfort of knowing that their team will never be out of a game this March.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.