GREENSBORO Maybe it was because the opposition was so tired.
Her coach suggested it might have come from outer space.
But for whatever the reason, Latifah Coleman was pure magic for North Carolina in the final nine minutes Saturday at Greensboro Coliseum.
Coleman, a 5-foot-9 sophomore guard, scored her career-high of 17 points, all in just that time span, as the Tar Heels erased a 14-point halftime deficit to stun Maryland 72-65 in the semifinals of the ACC women’s basketball tournament.
It was the second biggest halftime deficit any team has overcome in the tournament’s history, behind only the 20 Duke trailed Virginia before winning a 1995 semifinal 83-82 in overtime.
No. 3 seed UNC (28-5) will take on top-seeded archrival Duke (29-2) for the championship today at 2 p.m. The Terps (24-7), ranked No. 10 nationally, are certain to get an NCAA bid.
Saturday’s game was the rubber match of the season series, since the Tar Heels had won 60-57 on Jan. 3 in Chapel Hill before getting blown out 85-59 on Jan. 24 in College Park.
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt had 20 points for 17th-ranked UNC despite a nasty upset stomach, and Waltiea Rolle added 19 points and 11 rebounds for her sixth double-double of the season. Xylina McDaniel had 12 rebounds to go with her three points.
“I know everyone is going to ask me where Latifah came from, so ‘We shipped her in from Mars this morning,’ ” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said with a smile.
“She hardly played even yesterday because last year she had knee surgery in her ACL and she’s still having problems. We weren’t even sure she was going to play today.”
Alyssa Thomas led Maryland with 26 points and 12 rebounds.
“(Coleman) caught on fire from the first ‘three’ and really gained confidence from there,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “We tried to switch her up. We put Katie Rutan, our best defender, on her. We went to (Thomas) with size, and she got really confident.
“That’s obviously a luxury you have when you have a bench like Carolina does, to figure out which player has the hot hand.”
UNC trailed 38-24 at the break, and 44-34 with 15 minutes, 43 seconds left following a layup by the Terps’ Alicia DeVaughn. But the Tar Heels had trimmed the lead to 50-45 on Rolle’s layup at 9:27 before Coleman went to work.
She hit two free throws at 8:59 to trim it to 50-47, and then tied the game at 52-52 on a 3-pointer with 6:03 showing. She added a layup to 5:23 to put the Tar Heels ahead for the first time in over 30 minutes at 54-53, and later hit a jumper with 2:27 left to give UNC the lead for good at 62-60.
“When (Ruffin-Pratt) left the game (with the bad stomach) Coach just told me to be a leader,” said the Tar Heels’ smallest player, whose only career double-figure game had been 13 points in a 60-58 win at Georgia Tech on Feb. 10. “I hit the first 3 ’three’ and got in a rhythm and didn’t stop from there.”
UNC shot 39.7 percent to the Terps’ 35.5, but outshot them 50 percent to 29 in the second half. UNC won the rebound battle 44-38, the first time all season Maryland has been outrebounded.