CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As Florida State senior guard Ralph Mims slouched in his locker stall, even nibbling on his postgame, boxed-lunch sandwich seemed to be a chore.
"I'm exhausted," he said.
He had lots of company in that state. The Seminoles were physically and emotionally spent after their 82-70 loss to the talented and deep North Carolina Tar Heels in the ACC tournament quarterfinals Friday afternoon before a packed Charlotte Bobcats Arena.
The Seminoles realized that if they had pulled off the upset of the top-seeded and top-ranked Tar Heels, they just might have secured their first NCAA Tournament bid in a decade.
"I think it's a long shot at this point," coach Leonard Hamilton conceded.
A fourth NIT berth in five years seems to be assured for the Seminoles (19-14), who had overcome season-ending injuries to two projected starters, an illness to another that limits his play, the departure of two players and a lengthy suspension for another to be at their best down the stretch and get back into the NCAA conversation … until the gas gauge neared the E.
Senior guard Jason Rich, junior guard Toney Douglas, Mims and junior forward Uche Echefu all played at least 32 minutes in Thursday's win against Wake Forest.
"I looked at all the other teams that played (Thursday), the number of minutes their players played, and I saw mine and I knew it was going to have some kind of effect on us," Hamilton said.
The four clocked at least 34 minutes each on Friday.
No one on UNC played more than 33 minutes.
The Tar Heels, who meet Virginia Tech in today's semifinals, eventually took advantage of their freshness, not to mention talent. Up 35-30, junior forward Tyler Hansbrough, the ACC's top player, pump-faked Echefu and drove in for a layup and a foul. He made the free throw, his first attempt of the game.
Moments later, Hansbrough, who averages 10 free throws but didn't take one against Duke in the regular-season finale, was back on the line for another three-point play.
Senior point guard Quentin Thomas, coming off the bench after starting the past nine games in place of injured Ty Lawson, followed with a driving scoop shot for a 48-38 lead.
"We were more aggressive offensively in the second half than we were in the first half," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "We settled too much for outside jump shots in the first half as opposed to getting the ball inside through dribble or pass. That was important for us."
Hansbrough scored 14 of his team-high 22 after the break, helped by 8-for-10 shooting from the line.
"They get the ball inside quite well, and they've got one of the best players in the country inside. And when they get it to him, he's either going to get two points or get fouled," said Rich, who led FSU for the second day with 23 points to give him a school-record 45 in the ACC tournament.
FSU, which has never won two games in the tournament, would get no closer than seven the rest of the way and lost for the third time this season to the Tar Heels.
"I was extremely proud of our players," Hamilton said. "I didn't think they backed up, but I do think that we fatigued a little bit in the second half. We didn't quite have the energy that I thought we needed to continue to keep making comebacks."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.