“In the second half, if a team shoots 67 percent against you, it’s hard to win, yet we had it in position that we could have win the game,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “… They had players step up and make plays, and that’s what you have to have.”
When Bobby Frasor (two points, two rebounds) knocked down one of two free throws to give North Carolina a 70-69 lead with 1:03 left in regulation, it appeared as though a second consecutive late-game rally was destined for the nation’s top-ranked program. After all, the Tar Heels trailed Virginia Tech 74-71 in the final minutes on Friday before emerging victorious, and faced a 69-65 deficit with 2:48 to play on Saturday.
But ACC Player of the Year runner-up Toney Douglas drilled two free throws – the final nails in a 27-point performance – with 47 seconds left, and the Seminoles forced a Tyler Hansbrough turnover in the post with 20 seconds to play to essentially clinch Florida State’s first appearance in the ACC Tournament finals.
“I’m not really sure what happened,” Hansbrough said of his last turnover. “To be honest with you, I’ll just watch it and see. I don’t really have an opinion on it right now. I just don’t really remember.”
Derwin Kitchen ended the day’s scoring with two free throws with 15 seconds left on the clock, and Wayne Ellington (24 points on 8-of-17 shooting) and Danny Green (four points, five rebounds) both missed potential game-tying 3-pointers in a hectic scramble as the game clock exhausted all of UNC’s hopes for a third-straight ACC Tournament crown.
“They did a pretty good job defending me,” Ellington replied when asked about his final 3-point attempt. “I was coming off the screen and couldn’t get a clean look.”
Florida State used a 10-0 spurt overlapping the halves to gain control of the ball game after trailing 32-29 at the break, and North Carolina had difficulty getting over the proverbial hump. The Tar Heels tied or took the lead five times in the second half, and the Seminoles scored on the ensuing possession on four of those occasions.
Florida State shot a staggering 66.7 percent (16-of-24) after intermission, and connected on 63.2 percent (24-of-38) of its shots over the final 29 minutes of play. What makes those statistics even more disheartening for North Carolina is its early defensive efforts against the Seminoles.
Leonard Hamilton’s squad converted its first three field goal attempts to jump out to a quick 6-0 lead, but then the Tar Heel defense clamped down, holding the Seminoles to just one field goal in 16 tries over a nine-minute, 52-second stretch.
North Carolina, however, struggled with its own inability to generate offense. The Tar Heels managed runs of 14-2 and 9-0 to build the three-point halftime lead, but Ellington was the lone bright spot early, scoring 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting (3-of-5 on 3-pointers).
Hansbrough and Green combined for a 1-of-12 first-half performance, with four of the four-time All-American’s six points coming at the free throw line. For Green, his 1-of-12 shooting display added to an already difficult weekend for the North Babylon, N.Y. native. In two games, the senior wing scored nine points on 12 percent shooting (3-of-25).
Despite the slump, Green – who missed three attempts from point-blank range, including a designed alley-oop – indicated that he wasn’t reluctant in the latter stages of the game to put up his shot.
“I just wasn’t looking for my shot as much as I usually am, and I wasn’t as aggressive as I usually am,” Green said. “And since I was having a tough night on the offensive end of the floor, I was just trying to get everyone else involved, but if I was open, I was going to shoot the ball.”
Hansbrough finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds, passing Sam Perkins (1,167) for most career rebounds at UNC (1,172). The All-American is now only three points away from breaking J.J. Redick’s ACC all-time scoring mark of 2,769.
Deon Thompson added 12 points and five rebounds for North Carolina, despite playing on a sprained ankle suffered in the closing minutes of Friday’s victory over Virginia Tech. As a team, North Carolina shot 37.3 percent (22-of-59) from the floor.
Kitchen (nine rebounds, six assists, three steals) and Solomon Alabi both contributed 11 points for the Seminoles, who won the rebounding battle, 38-35.
While the Tar Heels were disappointed in Saturday’s loss, there was no overwhelming sense of doom and gloom in the locker room following the game. And for good reason – this season’s expectations was built around what happens at Ford Field in Detroit, not at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
"It's not the end of the world," said Frasor, who started at point guard for the injured Ty Lawson for the second time in as many days. "We'd rather be playing [on Sunday], but we played our season to be playing on the last Monday."
But beginning next Thursday in Greensboro, there will be no margin of error.
“There’s no tomorrow now,” Williams said. “The next time you feel this way at the end of a game, you’re done.”
The NCAA Tournament bracket will officially be announced Sunday afternoon at 6pm on CBS. North Carolina is widely expected to earn a No. 1 seed.