GREENSBORO, N.C. — Harrison Barnes ignored all the doubters, the questions about his game, even the bumpier-than-expected start to his career at North Carolina.
Those days felt long ago Saturday as the freshman put on a record-setting show that helped the sixth-ranked Tar Heels escape again at the ACC tournament.
Barnes set a freshman tournament record with 40 points to help North Carolina rally past Clemson 92-87 in overtime in the semifinals, sending the Tar Heels to the championship game for the first time in three years.
Barnes hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:13 left as part of a 9-0 spurt to open the extra period for top-seeded North Carolina (26-6), which continued its living-dangerously run in Greensboro. A day after rallying from 19 down in the final 10 minutes to beat Miami, the Tar Heels trailed the Tigers (21-11) by 14 in the first half and rallied from seven down in the final four minutes of regulation to force overtime.
"My goal was to be in the final," Barnes said. "This is not how I imagined us doing it, but we find a way."
The Tar Heels have won 19 of 21 games since losing to Texas on a last-second shot in December. They're now a win away from their 18th ACC tournament title, which would tie Duke for most all time. They'll face the Blue Devils in today's final, marking the first time the rivals have met for the title in 10 years.
Barnes finished 12-of-17 from the floor and 10-of-11 from the free-throw line, capping his day with two free throws with 8.3 seconds left and the Tar Heels ahead 90-87.
His 40 points also tied former UNC great Tyler Hansbrough for the league's freshman scoring record in any game, marked the first time a player had scored 40 in the tournament since Wake Forest's Randolph Childress in 1995 and was the most by a North Carolina player in the tournament since Charles Scott had 41 in the 1970 quarterfinals.
NO. 5 DUKE 77, VA. TECH 63: Nolan Smith refused to let a toe injury stop him. Virginia Tech couldn't do it, either.
Smith had 27 points a day after jamming his toe, and the Blue Devils claimed a spot in the championship game.
"At this stage," Smith said, "no injury is going to hold me back from playing."
Kyle Singler added 13 points and 11 rebounds and Seth Curry had 10 points for second-seeded Duke (29-4).
The reigning national champs shot 47 percent and kept the Hokies at arm's length throughout the second half to avenge a late-season loss.
Malcolm Delaney had 19 points on 4-of-14 shooting for the sixth-seeded Hokies (21-11), who made just 2 of 12 3-pointers and never got closer than 10 in the final 14 minutes.
"Going into the game, I felt we had earned confidence," Virginia Tech and former USF coach Seth Greenberg said. "We had beaten this team. But we needed to play well, not just play hard. I thought we played really hard. Unfortunately, we didn't play as well" Saturday.
Erick Green hit a layup over Curry that pulled Virginia Tech within 41-35 with just less than 18 minutes left. Singler followed with a jumper to start the 11-2 run that pushed Duke's lead into double figures to stay.
The focus was on Smith, the ACC player of the year. His status was in question until a few minutes before tipoff because he injured his second left toe late in Duke's victory the night before against Maryland. X-rays showed no broken bones, and coach Mike Krzyzewski said Smith was walking "fairly well" at a short team meeting about midnight.
"Once we knew that it was more of a jammed toe, we felt that he would be okay," Krzyzewski said.