ATLANTA (AP) – Leonard Hamilton walked off the court with a net draped around his neck. Deividas Dulkys posed for pictures with a small flag from his native Lithuania stuck in his cap, holding a sign that said it all:
“2012 ACC Champions.”
Striking a blow against Tobacco Road and carving their own niche at a place best known for its gridiron success, 17th-ranked Florida State won its first Atlantic Coast Conference basketball championship Sunday by holding off storied North Carolina 85-82 in the title game.
“It means a lot to the program to be able to crack into the upper echelon of such a rich tradition,” said Hamilton, the Seminoles 10TH-year coach. “We want to keep building the program so we can contend on a regular basis.”
Tournament MVP Michael Snaer scored 18 points and Florida State (24-9) used a barrage of 3-pointers to hold off No. 4 North Carolina.
The Seminoles, who joined the ACC in 1991, showed its 33-point blowout of the Tar Heels during the regular season was no fluke, though this one went to the wire. North Carolina (29-5) nearly came all the way back from a 16-point deficit in the first half.
P.J. Hairston missed a tying 3 at the buzzer.
It was the first time since Maryland’s title in 2004 that a team outside the state of North Carolina won the tournament. The Seminoles sure earned this one, knocking off the ACC’s two most hallowed programs–sixth-ranked Duke in the semifinals, the Tar Heels in the final–on back-to-back days.
“It’s a great accomplishment just because their history is so rich,” Seminoles guard Luke Loucks said. “Not only to beat them, but to have an opportunity to play those teams on this stage and in this game was really important to us.”
He remembered a talk Hamilton gave his team a couple of seasons ago, when this now-veteran team was just coming together, a sort of anti-Kentucky that relied on experience and maturity.
“He said, `You can really change the culture of Florida State basketball,”‘ Loucks said. “We’re stepping in the right direction of doing that and making our mark. We’re not just some random team from Florida. We’re in the thick of things every year.”
Florida State hit 11 of 22 from 3-point range, which turned out to be the difference. North Carolina went 5 of 20 from beyond the arc, including Kendall Marshall’s miss on a potential game-winning shot with 5 seconds to go.
Harrison Barnes led North Carolina with 23 points, while Tyler Zeller had 19 points and 12 rebounds.
It was only the second time in the last 16 years that a team other than North Carolina or Duke has won the ACC tournament. This one went to a school known for its haunting chant, which came through loud and clear as the Seminoles hopped around in the middle of the court, hugging in a raucous celebration as streamers and confetti fell from the ceiling. The majority of the crowd, wearing Tar Heel blue, filed silently out of Philips Arena.
“I have no problem with the way my team competed, particularly in the last 12 minutes,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “It was a big-time basketball game and we gave ourselves a chance.”
Marshall hit a 3-pointer with 30.1 seconds remaining to pull North Carolina within 83-82, and the Tar Heels went for the win after Okaro White’s 1-and-1 free throw clanked off the side of the rim.
Instead of pounding the ball inside, a wide-open Marshall elected to put up another trey with five seconds left. This one missed, the Seminoles rebounded and North Carolina quickly fouled. Marshall, who nearly had his third straight double-double of the tournament with 15 points and nine assists, tugged at his jersey with head down as he headed back down the court.
“We executed the play perfectly,” said Marshall, who was joined on the all-tournament team by Snaer, Loucks, Zeller and North Carolina State’s C.J. Leslie. “I might have rushed it a little bit. It would have been nice if it went down, but that’s the way the ball goes sometimes.”
Marshall appeared to try a bit of gamesmanship when Dulkys went to the line for another 1-and-1 with 3.9 seconds to go. The guard ran in to scream instructions to his teammates just as the Florida State player was buckling his knees to put up the first attempt. No problem. Nothing but net. Dulkys made the second one, too, but the Tar Heels had one more chance.
Zeller inbounded to Hairston at midcourt, and he quickly called a timeout. Only six-tenths of a second went off the clock, and North Carolina inbounded again from a more favorable position.
“That’s why they call it March Madness,” official Roger Ayers said as he held the ball near press row, waiting for the Tar Heels to throw it in again.
Hairston got a decent look at the tying shot, a long, straight-on 3. But it bounced off the side of the rim.
Snaer made all but one of his five 3-pointers, while Dulkys finished 4 of 9 outside the arc in a 16-point performance. Loucks and Ian Miller added 10 points apiece for the Seminoles.
Hairston had 13 points and was North Carolina’s most effective 3-point weapon, going 3 of 7 from long range. The Tar Heels played their second straight game without ACC defensive player of the year John Henson, who was in uniform but couldn’t go because of an injured left wrist.
Florida State lit it up from the outside, especially in the opening half. Snaer made all three of his attempts from beyond the arc and Dulkys knocked down 3 of 7 from long range.
Dulkys and Snaer swished back-to-back three-pointers to give the Seminoles their largest lead, 47-31–about halfway to the margin of a 90-57 blowout in Tallahassee, with still just three minutes left in the opening half. North Carolina burned a timeout and managed to turn things around, closing the period on a 9-2 spurt that made the score more manageable at the break.
Barnes finally connected on the Tar Heels’ first 3 of the half and scored seven points in the run. But North Carolina still went to the locker room racing its largest halftime deficit of the season, 49-40. The Tar Heels were only down by 8 midway through that debacle at Florida State, the worst loss of the Williams era.
This one didn’t turn out like that.
Actually, this one might have hurt even worse for the Tar Heels, who lost in the ACC championship game for the second year in a row.
Still, North Carolina hoped to land a top seed when the NCAA field was announced later Sunday. Florida State claimed the ACC’s automatic bid and surely helped its seeding with a second win over the Tar Heels.
“Seeding really doesn’t matter too much,” Hairston said. “As long as you get in the dance, it’s an equal opportunity to get to the Final Four.”