The North Carolina men's basketball team lost in the ACC Tournament semifinals to Florida State, 69-66, in a game that saw the Tar Heels overcome another slow start, only to ultimately fail in a close-fought comeback attempt in the second half.
Both teams started out shooting poorly, but also playing incredibly physically underneath the basket. Malik Osborne hit two 3-pointers and future lottery pick Scottie Barnes made an emphatic dunk to put the Seminoles up 12-6 early, but both teams were shooting just a combined 7-25 from the floor to start.
The toll of UNC's battle against Virginia Tech started to take its toll against the swarming Florida State defense, as the Tar Heels struggled through the first half trying to convert on free throw opportunities and not turn the ball over. At times, North Carolina looked incapable of running a smooth set in the half court and struggled to get the ball into the post regularly. By the end of the first half, UNC was shooting just 8-30 from the floor with seven turnovers, trailing the Seminoles, 35-24.
Just as it was in the last game against the Seminoles, North Carolina came out of the break looking significantly more focused and in a better offensive rhythm. After hitting just one 3-point attempt in the first half, the Tar Heels hit two in the first six minutes. Trailing 46-40 with 13:22 left in the game, UNC proceeded to go on an 8-0 run with two 3s from first-year guard Kerwin Walton and a scoopy layup from sophomore big man Armando Bacot to take its first lead of the game since the 14:08 mark in the first half.
The two teams battled for the next 12 minutes, neither team able to take control of the game until the very last moment. Down three with less than 30 second left in the game, first-year center Day'Ron Sharpe missed a pair of free throws, and FSU held on to win the game, 69-66.
Who stood out?
Walton was a momentum-changer for North Carolina in the second half, almost single-handedly turning the game around by hitting three 3-pointers in the span of two minutes to bring the Tar Heels back in punching distance. The first-year wing scored all of his 11 points in the second half, and contributed two steals to his performance.
When was it decided?
The Tar Heels had been in the same place they stood at the end of the first half. Two weeks ago, they trailed Florida State by 12 after a similar opening 20 minutes where they struggled to feed the post, hit shots and possess the ball.
And just like last time, the Tar Heels emerged from the break looking like an entirely different team. A barrage of 3-pointers from Kerwin Walton and a renewed focus on feeding the ball to North Carolina's big men brought the team back into the fighting, where they would trade punches with the Seminoles for most of the second half. The game would come to the very last minute, when first-year guard RJ Davis missed a heavily contested layup and senior forward Garrison Brooks subsequently committed the foul. Florida State hit both free throws to go up three points, and UNC was unable to score in the closing moments.
Why does it matter?
North Carolina once again proved it can fight its way back after a patented slow start against one of the best teams in the country. The Tar Heels might be headed home, but they're peaking at exactly the right time to enter the NCAA Tournament.
When do they play next?
UNC will wait to see where it places in the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday to find out when and where it will be playing next.
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