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College Basketball

Reversed fortunes

Clemson claims ACC Tournament title with win over UNC

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Posted: Tuesday March 02, 1999 12:14 AM

  Clemson's Itor Umoh and UNC's Jessica Gaspar fight for a rebound. Umoh finished with 26 points. AP

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Itoro Umoh's actions spoke a lot louder than her words Monday night, and the result was Clemson's second Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

"She told me before the game she was sick of losing to North Carolina," coach Jim Davis said after Umoh had 26 points and five assists to lead No. 13 Clemson to an 87-72 victory against the 11th-ranked Tar Heels in the conference title game.

The Tigers, who had lost to North Carolina in each of the past two ACC title games, reversed their fortunes this time by rallying from a nine-point deficit early in the second half.

Umoh, a senior point guard, had 17 points in the final 171/2 minutes.

"Talk is cheap, so we just had to come out there and prove it," said Umoh, named the tournament's most valuable player.

Clemson (24-5) consistently outhustled the Tar Heels inside, helping the Tigers finish with 40 points in the paint.

A 23-percent 3-point shooter, Umoh made both of her long-range attempts against North Carolina, including a 25-footer with 4:47 to play that gave Clemson its biggest lead to that stage, 69-59.

"I could have choked her," Davis said of his reaction when Umoh launched the shot. "She's been practicing her 3-pointers a lot, but she hadn't been practicing from that far out. That's not her game and she knows it's not her game, but that was huge, huge, huge."

North Carolina (26-7) had 16 turnovers that Clemson converted into 23 points, damaging the Tar Heels' quest for their fifth league crown in six years.

"Down the stretch when they got momentum, we didn't have players step up when they needed to," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "We just missed a lot of easy shots."

The Tigers, who came into the tournament holding opponents to an ACC-low 36-percent shooting, limited North Carolina to 32 percent in the second half and 42 percent for the game.

Clemson wound up making 29 of 42 free throws, including a 24-of-35 performance in the second half.

"The second half it didn't seem like we could do anything," Hatchell said, "without getting a foul called."

Natasha Anderson added 18 points, Nikki Blassingame 14 and Angie Cossey 12 for the Tigers, whose other ACC title came in 1996. Top scorer Amy Geren didn't make a field goal and finished with two points, almost 13 below her average, but Umoh more than made up for it.

North Carolina got 23 points from Juana Brown, including 17 in the first half, as well as 19 from Nikki Teasley and 11 from LaQuanda Barksdale.

The Tar Heels' Chanel Wright suffered a laceration of her right cornea while battling for a rebound with 3:19 remaining. She was taken to a hospital for tests but was released and returned to campus with her teammates. School officials said she likely would be sidelined for about three days.

Down by nine early in the second half, Clemson rallied with a 17-4 run that started with the Tigers forcing three turnovers and converting them into six points. Geren capped the run by feeding Blassingame for a fast-break layup that put Clemson up 53-49 with 13:12 remaining.

The Tigers' strategy of forcing the ball down low helped them spend the final nine minutes in the bonus. They took the lead to stay on a free throw by Blassingame that made it 56-55 with 8:53 left, and they sealed the victory by making 11 of 12 in the final 1:59.

Clemson was up 28-25 before the Tar Heels closed the first half with an 18-8 run. Brown had seven points in the surge, helping North Carolina build its lead as high as nine points on the way to a 43-36 halftime score.

 
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