- Associated Press - Friday, March 13, 2015

GREENSBORO, N.C. — North Carolina coach Roy Williams has spent months coaching, imploring, even begging his Tar Heels to play with more toughness and urgency.

They’ve picked the right time to do it.

Marcus Paige hit two free throws with 3.9 seconds left to help No. 19 UNC beat No. 3 Virginia 71-67 in Friday night’s semifinals of the ACC tournament.

Paige also hit a huge shot to beat the clock in the final minute, helping the fifth-seeded Tar Heels (24-10) hold off the top seed and reigning champion in a tense finish.

It came one day after they pushed their way past No. 14 Louisville in the second half, a two-game stretch that validates Williams’ belief that his team can beat anybody when it plays tough enough.

“Teams talk about us being soft and all that kind of stuff,” Williams said, “but I liked our toughness down the stretch yesterday and today both.”

Freshman Justin Jackson scored a season-high 22 points to lead the Tar Heels, who never trailed and led by 13 points in the second half before all-ACC guard Malcolm Brogdon singlehandedly brought the Cavaliers (29-3) back.

Brogdon scored 22 of his 25 points after halftime, including a run of eight consecutive shots that twice pulled Virginia to within one — the last coming on his drive with 1:16 left.

But Paige answered with an up-and-under move in the lane against Brogdon to beat the shot clock with 41.6 seconds left and push the margin to 65-62.

Justin Anderson — in his second game back after missing eight games due to a finger injury and an appendectomy — and Brogdon both missed tying 3-pointers, and UNC went 6-for-6 at the line in the final 16 seconds to hang on.

Anthony Gill and London Perrantes each scored 12 points for Virginia.

The Tar Heels shot 54.8 percent against Virginia’s tough defense, controlled the boards and played solid defense of their own for much of the night to earn their fourth trip to the final in five years.

“We competed at the highest level we’ve competed all year,” Paige said.

The Cavaliers won the regular-season and tournament titles last year, then won the regular-season race again. But they have lost two of three heading into the NCAA tournament and they’re still trying to get Anderson back to pre-injury form.

Anderson was averaging 13.4 points and shooting a league-best 48 percent from behind the arc before breaking a finger in early February. He hasn’t scored in the two games since his return and missed all six shots while playing with a bandage on his shooting hand, but said he feels fine physically and “great” about his shot.

“They showed great heart and fight to claw their way back into it, to have a chance to maybe tie it or extend the game,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “So I like that. But what we try to hang our hat on was really porous.

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