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No. 9 Tar Heels Take NIT Semis

No. 9 North Carolina, led by 7-footer Brendan Haywood's 21 points and 11 rebounds, wore down No. 14 Purdue Wednesday night 54-47 in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT.

The victory put the tall Tar Heels in Friday night's championship game against another big team, No. 3 Stanford, in a matchup of two of last spring's Final Four teams.

Haywood stuffed three dunks in a row to start the game off right for North Carolina.

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To their credit, the Boilermakers withstood the early statement and played smart, steady basketball, even running off a 10-2 spurt at the end of the first half to lead 26-19.

"In the first half, we played too relaxed," said Tar Heels point guard Ed Cota, who finished with 11 points.

Purdue (4-1) led 45-39 with under 10 minutes to play when North Carolina's size took over. Haywood dominated underneath as Purdue ran out of answers for him.

"It was easily his best game," North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge said. "His stamina has improved and his confidence increases game by game."

The Boilermakers were scoreless in the last 5:54.

"It starts with coaching," coach Gene Keady said. "We had the wrong players shooting the ball. We're young, so they have to listen and not foul people with a seven-point lead."

Brendan Haywood
Brendan Haywood dunks home two of his 21 points Wednesday night. (AP)

Cota made 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch and Haywood and Ademola Okulaja had two each.

"We did not execute our defense in the second half," Keady said.

North Carolina finished with a 15-2 run and scored the game's last 12 points to seal the victory. Haywood's two free throws with 5:13 to play sent North Carolina in front to stay.

"Carolina made a run at us and we didn't respond," Keady said. "We had to many turnovers. We let the game slip away."

Cota made six consecutive foul shots down the stretch and 6-10 freshman Kris Lang nailed a pair of clutch baskets. Lang finished with six points.

North Carolina had the rebounding edge 33-23

Gary McQuay led Purdue with 13 while Brian Cardinal and Jaraan Cornell added 10 apiece.

The doubleheader drew a crowd of 14,496 to Madison Square Garden.

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