March 14, 2009
ATLANTA (AP) -North Carolina can start focusing on a national championship. The nation’s top-ranked team was denied a shot at its third straight Atlantic Coast Conference title.
Toney Douglas scored 27 points, including the go-ahead free throws, and No. 22 Florida State held on for a 73-70 victory over the Tar Heels in the ACC semifinals Saturday.
Tyler Hansbrough had 22 points and 12 rebounds, but the reigning national player of the year lost control of the ball trying to get inside for a shot with about 20 seconds remaining and North Carolina trailing 71-70. Florida State’s Derwin Kitchen scooped it up, was fouled and hit two clutch free throws.
The Tar Heels (28-4) came down for a final shot – and got two of them. Wayne Ellington, who led North Carolina with 24 points, missed from beyond the arc. Danny Green chased down the rebound, stepped outside the line and fired up another 3 at the buzzer. It came up short, and the Seminoles erupted in a raucous celebration.
North Carolina played without ACC player of the year Ty Lawson, who missed his second straight game with an injured big right toe.
“We wanted to win this real bad,” said Lawson, who did some shooting before the game before watching from the bench when a protective shoe on his ailing foot. “But our big goal is the national championship.”
Florida State (25-8) advanced to its first ACC final in school history. The Seminoles will meet with Maryland or Duke on Sunday.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Douglas, who grew up about 15 miles from the Georgia Dome and is the younger brother of Atlanta Falcons receiver Harry Douglas. “But we’re still hungry. We’re never satisfied.”
Despite the loss, North Carolina is still likely to get a top seed in the NCAA tournament, especially after No. 2 Pittsburgh and No. 3 Connecticut both lost in their opening games at the Big East tournament. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams made clear his top priority when he decided to sit Lawson at the ACC tournament, trying to ensure he’s as healthy as possible to make a run at a national title.
“It’s not the end of the world,” said Bobby Frasor, Lawson’s fill-in at point guard. “We’d rather be playing (Sunday), but we played our season to be playing on the last Monday.”
Still, it was a stunning defeat for the team that had won the last two ACC tournaments, eliminating Florida State each time. The Seminoles picked up their first win over North Carolina since 2004 and their first postseason victory against the Tar Heels since the 1972 Final Four.
During the regular season, Lawson hit a running 3-pointer as time expired to give the Tar Heels an 80-77 victory over Florida State. All he could this time was watch as a pair of teammates missed from long range.
Douglas sure didn’t miss very often. He made 10 of 18 from the field, including three beyond the arc, despite being shadowed by Frasor and having to get loose from frequent double teams.
Green who had two miserable games in Atlanta, making only 3-of-25 shots. He did make a steal with just over 2 minutes remaining, was fouled and hit both free throws for a 69-all tie.
After both teams missed shots, Douglas was called for a loose-ball trying to come up with a steal on Frasor. The fill-in senior made only one of two free throws, putting North Carolina up 70-69 with 1:03 to go.
But Douglas, trying to dribble along the sideline in front of the Florida State bench, was tripped up by Ed Davis. The Florida State star calmly went to the line and sank two free throws with 47 seconds to go.
North Carolina tried to go to its star, but Hansbrough couldn’t hang on to the ball underneath.
“I don’t really know what happened,” said Hansbrough, who had two big ice packs on his knees after going against Florida State’s big front line. “It was just crowded under there.”
The Seminoles shook off a dismal stretch of shooting early in the game, missing 16 of 17. North Carolina also struggled, but the Tar Heels looked to be pulling away late in the half when Hansbrough worked inside for his first basket of the game and a 30-21 lead.
Florida State closed the period on an 8-2 run, however. Douglas swished a 3-pointer, then hit another jumper while being fouled. He failed to convert the three-point play, but the Seminoles chased down the rebound and Kitchen scored to make it 32-29 going to the locker room.
The game was briefly halted with about 14 minutes remaining while Ellington was in the middle of shooting a pair of free throws. Banks of lighting went out at each end of the court, briefly raising the thought of another storm hitting the Georgia Dome on a rainy day in Atlanta. A tornado struck the building during last year’s Southeastern Conference tournament.
It was merely a mechanical malfunction, and the game resumed as a delay of less than 5 minutes after the lights failed to come back on. Both coaches agreed to play in a slightly darkened arena.