ATLANTA – Florida State won its first ACC tournament championship ever Sunday afternoon, taking a 16-point first-half lead and never quite losing it all in a scintillating 85-82 victory over North Carolina.
The Tar Heels made a fine comeback and had a chance in the last 10 seconds, down only 82-81, but Kendall Marshall missed a long three-pointer. After two Florida State free throws by Deividas Dulkys with 3.9 seconds left, the Tar Heels then inbounded the ball to midcourt and called timeout with 3.3 seconds to go. Freshman P.J. Hairston got a decent look at a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer, but it hit off the back rim and the Seminoles celebrated wildly at midcourt.
Both teams will now await their destiny for Selection Sunday. The Tar Heels lost their shot at an 18th ACC tournament title but likely will still get a No.1 seed in Greensboro. Florida State has to be in the top-four conversation after taking its first-ever ACC tourney title under Leonard Hamilton, its head coach and a Gastonia native.
While the first two days of the ACC tournament were mostly snooze-worthy, the last two where fascinating. The final three games all went down to the buzzer and were decided by a total of only eight points.
The Seminoles took advantage of the absence of John Henson – the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year played only seven minutes in the entire tournament due to a left wrist injury, and none in the final. Especially in the first half, the Seminoles attacked the basket constantly.
For awhile in the first half it looked like a repeat of FSU’s 33-point regular-season win over UNC might be in the cards. The Seminoles were up 47-31 with 2:45 to go in the first half and would shoot a sizzling 62.5 percent in that period.
But Roy Williams used a rare first-half timeout and the Tar Heels cut the margin to a more manageable nine points by halftime. Then the Tar Heels got a huge boost in the second half from Hairston, whose shot had been off for most of the ACC season.
Hairston hit three three-pointers in the first 10 minutes of the second half and added two free throws, scoring 11 quick points as the Tar Heels trimmed the FSU edge to five. The rest of the way it was very tight, until Hairston’s missed three-pointer at the buzzer ended it.
It was a high-caliber game and both teams ultimately deserved some praise. UNC cut its losing margin with the Seminoles from 33 points to three points without Henson on the floor. And FSU – an experienced and deep team – won its first-ever ACC title and ended a remarkable season in which the Seminoles have beaten both UNC and Duke twice.