Tar Heels sink Seminoles for first ACC win

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As if it were a scene from Florida State’s 33-point rout against North Carolina just one year ago, the Seminoles came out in the second half Saturday at the Donald Tucker Center scoring their first 12 points on four long-range buckets.

It was that kind of play that caused the Tar Heels to suffer their worst loss in almost a decade at the hands of the Seminoles last season. Having experienced it once before, senior Dexter Strickland corralled his teammates, determined not to go through the same misery twice.

“We couldn’t fold on defense,” he said. “I pulled everybody in together and said, ‘Come on, man. We’re right here. Let’s not let this slip away.’”

This go around, the Tar Heels didn’t. Fueled by guard P.J. Hairston’s career-high 23 points and a four-minute-long defensive stronghold to close the game, UNC won 77-72, earning its first conference victory of the season.

Hairston went 9-for-14 from the floor Saturday, sinking four of the Tar Heels (11-5,1-2 ACC) eight 3-pointers. Against a defensive-minded Florida State (10-6, 2-1), Hairston knew he’d have to work for every single point.

“I just wanted to be more aggressive on the offensive end, take Florida State out of their game,” Hairston said. “You have to credit them. They are a great defensive team. When you’re moving and setting screens, it’s hard for people to guard you. And that’s what we did.”

UNC, which never led by more than six points, went into the locker room at halftime leading 33-31. In a game that featured eight lead changes, the Seminoles picked up their first lead of the half at the 14:21 mark and held onto it for the majority of the next 10 minutes.

A part of what would be one of the smallest lineups Williams said he’s ever played, Jackson Simmons put North Carolina back on top for good with just more than three minutes left to play.

The Tar Heels got the ball back from a Reggie Bullock steal, and in front of a railing from which hung 11 signs bearing the number three —a testament to the 11 long-range buckets FSU had accrued to that point — the ball left Hairston’s hands once again one minute later.

It swished in the net, giving UNC a 3-point lead that all but drove the nail in the Seminoles’ coffin.

“I know (Hairston’s) got that in him every night, but it’s up to him to play his game,” Bullock said. “He’s an aggressive scorer, and when he gets hot, he’s hot. And that’s what he was tonight.”

Florida State shot 50 percent from behind the arc Saturday. With 16 seconds to go, preseason All-American and first-team All-ACC guard Michael Snaer unloaded from 30-feet out, attempting the game-tying 3-point basket.

“I thought it was going to go in just because it was him,” coach Roy Williams said.

But it didn’t.

With a win against Florida State, the Tar Heels snapped the Seminoles’ two-game winning streak against them and avoided their first 0-3 conference start since the 1996-97 season.

Records aside, Williams was simply relieved his team could once again enjoy the feeling of a victory against an ACC opponent.

“We’ve been struggling,” Williams said. “The pressure’s been on. The stress of being at North Carolina starting out 0-2 on a young team is incredibly tough to handle.

“Our kids needed this, to say the least.”

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