Ed Cota's wakeup call was answered Friday night in resounding fashion by North Carolina's slumping offense.
The point guard of the 15th-ranked Tar Heels was critical of his teammates earlier in the week for what he called repetitive offensive mistakes and blown assignments.
North Carolina responded from a 20-point home loss to Duke six days ago by blasting Georgia Tech 78-49 in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quarterfinals, shooting 67 percent in the second half and equalling a season-low with seven turnovers.
"Hey, if Ed has to say something then we know there's a problem," said forward Kris Lang, one of five North Carolina players in double figures. "We had to correct it."
Cota did more than talk against the Yellow Jackets. He had a team-high 14 points and nine assists as the Tar Heels won their seventh straight tourney game with a 23-2 second-half run.
"We showed up tonight," Cota said of the offense. "Nobody took poor shots and we got great ball movement and we got the shots we wanted."
"I don't think there was one time where we didn't get the offense right. Every call I made we executed and got a good shot off it. That lets me know that everybody on the team is focused now."
The Tar Heels (23-8) will now play No. 5 Maryland in Saturday's second semifinal game. The Terrapins cruised by Florida State 93-69 earlier in the day.
Freshman starter Jason Capel was in street clothes nursing a sore back, but the Tar Heels got a big second-half lift off the bench from Brian Bersticker, who began North Carolina's decisive second-half run with six straight points.
"Personally I think the sky's the limit," Bersticker said of North Carolina's chances of becoming the first team in 30 years to win three straight ACC crowns.
"We have four reat interior players, and not just offensively but defensively. I think we've got a lot of guys who can stop other teams' big men, and I think we all run the floor real, real well."
The Yellow Jackets, led by Jason Collier's 17 points, fell to 15-15 in losing for the eighth time in the last 10 games. The loss also dropped Georgia Tech to 1-8 this season against ranked teams.
"We have a tendency to let games get away from us," said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins.
Georgia Tech was 2-for-12 from 3-point range in the opening 20 minutes, but sank four straight from beyond the arc three in a row by slumping Tony Akins to pull to 41-40 with 12:54 left.
But Bersticker scored six straight points in a span of 1:06 on a baseline jumper, two foul shots and a fadeaway 10-footer in the lane to give the Tar Heels some breathing room as North Carolina scored on 10 of 11 possessions during the spurt.
Bersticker's 12 points were a season high.
"I told him he brought it home for us," Cota said of Bersticker. "He played a great game. He made some big plays for us."
North Carolina gradually built its first-half lead to 11 points 5:23 before intermission as the Yellow Jackets misfired on five straight 3-pointers.
But a reverse slam by Alvin Jones, a 17-foot baseline jumper by T.J. Vines and a 3-pointer by Jason Floyd closed the score to 30-26 before the Tar Heels settled for a seven-point halftime lead.
North Carolina was the last school to win three straight ACC tournament titles, from 1967-69.
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