The point guard for 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 routing Georgia Tech 78-49 in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quarterfinals, shooting 67 percent in the second half and equaling 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 tournaments.
``We have four great 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. ``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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