UNC (23-6, 13-2 ACC) and Florida State (20-9, 10-5 ACC) battled back and forth early until the Seminoles utilized three 3-pointers to spark an 11-3 run to build a 26-19 lead. The Tar Heels immediately responded with a 7-0 spurt to knot the score at 26, but FSU regained the lead and entered halftime with a 38-37 advantage.
North Carolina built a 67-60 lead with just under four minutes to play, but several poor decisions allowed Florida State to use a 10-2 run to regain the lead at 70-69 with 18 seconds on the clock. A Kendall Marshall driving lay-up was blocked out of bounds with 11 seconds left, setting up Barnes's heroics.
John Henson led North Carolina with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Barnes added 18 points (6-of-10 shooting, 2-4 on 3-pointers) and four rebounds. Leslie McDonald connected on three 3-pointers in scoring 10 points off the bench. Derwin Kitchen paced the Seminoles with 13 points and Michael Snaer added 11 points.
North Carolina shot 47.3 percent (26-of-55) from the floor against the nation's top team in field goal percentage defense. Florida State converted 48.3 percent (29-of-60) of its field goal attempts. The Tar Heels outrebounded the Seminoles, 39-28.
The Tar Heels defeated Florida State for the second-straight time at the Tucker Center on a last-second 3-pointer. Ty Lawson hit a running 30-footer as time expired to give North Carolina an 80-77 victory on Jan. 28, 2009.
INSIDE THE GAME
Barnes Right at Home in the Clutch
If you're familiar with North Carolina basketball under Roy Williams, then you have seen the setup of the Tar Heels' final play on Wednesday. Although, typically the player that has the ball out front is the point guard, not a small forward.
But when you have a clutch performer that wears an invisible cape in crucial late-game situations like Harrison Barnes, then the wise coaching move is to make a strategic adjustment. That's what Williams did recently in practice to give his freshman phenom experience at handling the ball as the shot clock or game clock ticked away.
Of course, the eighth-year head coach blamed himself for poor spacing on the perimeter that cut off any driving lanes, but Barnes had no qualms about pulling up for a dramatic finish from 21 feet out.
"The play is designed for me to be able to drive into the lane, but since they had three guys up top, I was mainly looking to try to set up a jump shot," Barnes said.
His game-winner against the Seminoles marks the second time in five weeks that the Ames, Iowa native has connected on a last-second 3-pointer to give UNC a victory on the road. Barnes drained a trey with 6.6 seconds left against Miami on Jan. 26.
In 15 ACC games this season, Barnes has hit the go-ahead and/or game-winning shot in the final 5:00 five times – Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson twice and now Florida State.
"It's very exciting to hit a last-second shot," Barnes said. "To have the game in your hands and be the hero or the goat – you make or you miss."
The only problem with that statement is that Barnes has yet to be the goat.
Rough Closing Stretch
When Kendall Marshall drained a 3-pointer from the right wing with 3:56 remaining to give UNC a 67-60 lead, it appeared as though the Tar Heels were in complete control. But instead of displaying the mental toughness this team has become known for this year, North Carolina looked like a team that starts four underclassmen and a junior that has yet to play a full collegiate season.
The Tar Heels failed to score a field goal over the next 3:53, missing three shots and committing four turnovers on their next seven possessions. Marshall got trapped in the corner on one play and instead of calling one of UNC's four timeouts, he tried to pass out of the double team, which led to Kitchen lay-up.
On North Carolina's next possession, Strickland returned to his '09-10 form, driving wildly to the basket and losing the ball. Kitchen went down and connected on two free throws to complete the 10-2 run and move his squad out in front 70-69 with 18 seconds to play.
"We've got to play more intelligently down the stretch, because we certainly gave them some opportunities and they took great advantage of it," Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference.
Henson Making His Case for All-ACC
Even with Chris Singleton sidelined due to a fractured foot, Leonard Hamilton is able to run a wealth of long, athletic forwards into the post to pose defensive nightmares for opposing squads and create scoring opportunities for the Seminoles. Bernard James, Xavier Gibson and Jon Kreft all stand 6-foot-10 or taller, while athletes Okaro White and Terrance Shannon have the needed length to play longer than their actual 6-foot-7 frames.
But while that group may collectively be more athletic than UNC's three-man post rotation, Henson made sure everyone at the Tucker Center knew that his talented length was greater than the sum of FSU's parts.
The sophomore shot blocker frustrated the Seminoles in the paint on defense while leading North Carolina in scoring in the first half with 12 points to go along with six rebounds and three blocks.
Tar Heel fans have become accustomed to Henson flirting with triple doubles, but they haven't seen him on the floor in late-game situations over the past two months. That changed on Wednesday. Henson logged 17 second-half minutes and remained on the court for the closing series of plays.
The reason, of course, is his ever-improving touch at the free throw line. Henson's lone miss from the charity stripe over the last four games came with 7:55 left to play and the sophomore needing just one point to set a new career-high.
"It felt good," Henson said. "Coach had faith in me and I had faith in myself that if I got fouled I was going to make the free throws. I'm glad I was in at the end… Hopefully I made some shots that much tougher on the defensive end."
Henson has likely locked up ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and should be in contention for a spot on the first-team All-ACC squad.
Less Players, More Minutes
All eyes were on Roy Williams on Wednesday to see what formula he would use to counter the loss of Reggie Bullock after the freshman wing tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee against Maryland. While Division I teams are allowed 13 scholarship players, North Carolina is currently down to eight.
As expected, Barnes's minutes increased from his 27.7 average to 34 minutes, one shy of equaling his season high. Justin Watts returned to his old role as a reserve at the 3-spot, logging five minutes as Barnes's backup in the first half and giving Henson a two-minute breather at the four. But Watts was erratic at times and had a tough match-up trying to guard Ian Miller during one stretch, so Barnes played 19 minutes after halftime.
Foul trouble limited Zeller to 27 minutes, which increased Henson's workload to a season-high 35 minutes. All five UNC starters played 27 minutes or more and McDonald (17) and Justin Knox (15) also played significant roles.