ATLANTA — When Florida State downed North Carolina in January, the Seminoles’ perimeter play handed UNC its first conference loss by a stunning 33 points.
So it was only fitting that the ACC tournament championship game, a rematch between the two teams on Sunday in Philips Arena, came down to a 3-pointer at the buzzer — this time with an opportunity for UNC to succeed from long range.
Unfortunately for the No. 5 Tar Heels (29-5), that last-second attempt didn’t go as planned.
As Florida State stifled UNC’s attempt to pass the ball to forward Harrison Barnes, freshman P.J. Hairston took the shot. Hairston’s fire clanged off the back iron and gave No. 17 FSU (24-9) an 85-82 victory and a conference championship ring.
“We had two plays set up — two screens set up for Harrison coming off the top, and they switched it, so he was overplayed,” senior Tyler Zeller said. “Then we had another screen for him going down to the baseline, and they switched it again. He wasn’t open.
“P.J. did a great job and he was our third option. He was open. He tried to make the best out of it, and it’s tough when you catch the ball nearly at half court.”
That stifling Seminoles defense troubled the Tar Heels from the start of the tournament final while their offense slowly pulled the lead toward FSU after a back-and-forth beginning.
Deividas Dulkys and Michael Snaer combined for six 3-pointers in the first half to keep the Seminoles comfortably ahead by a lead close to 10 points for the majority of the period.
Without ACC Defensive Player of the Year John Henson, who was dressed out for the contest but did not play with his sprained wrist, the Tar Heels could do little to stop Florida State’s pace. The Seminoles entered the half with a nine-point lead.
Coach Roy Williams said it wasn’t until the last 12 minutes of play that he finally saw the North Carolina team he’s seen of late attempt to claw back for a win.
“We kept trying to pry the door open, and they kept closing the door,” Williams said. “They made shots down the stretch.
“They made free throws, they made plays, 3-point plays. They did what they had to do to stop somebody from coming back and stealing a win from them, and you got to congratulate them.”
Zeller, who notched a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds, and Barnes, who scored a game-high 23 points, traded drives and put-back opportunities to bring the Tar Heels closer in the second-half effort.
But it was once again point guard Kendall Marshall who would hit UNC’s final shot, following his game-winner against N.C. State in the semifinal. With 31 seconds on the clock, Marshall hit a double-pump 3-pointer to pull the Tar Heels within one point of the lead. He finished with 15 points.
Although North Carolina’s final heave by Hairston didn’t convert into another conference title for the ACC regular-season champions, the Tar Heels did walk away from the loss with a valuable asset: this game’s tape.
Barnes said that reviewing this matchup’s film will be key in UNC’s preparation for the NCAA tournament.
“This is a classic tournament game,” he said. “I mean, just the intensity — it had a championship feel. Out of every game, it’s tough to be a Final Four or national champion. It’s first round, second round. So we just have to be ready to play come next Friday.”
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