TALLAHASSEE — North Carolina's last trip to the Tucker Center ended with coach Roy Williams pulling his starters in the final seconds as Florida State fans prepared to rush the court to celebrate a 33-point win.
On Saturday afternoon, the Tar Heels' key players stuck around to savor a 77-72 victory, giving the Seminoles an uphill climb to a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and sending many of their 12,060 fans streaming to the exits early.
"They did the things they had to do to win," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said.
Like rebound and make clutch plays.
The 'Noles (10-6, 2-1 ACC) mustered only 19 boards, their worst output in at least five seasons. The Tar Heels (11-5, 1-2) had that many on the offensive glass, which fueled 23 points from P.J. Hairston and 14 from James Michael McAdoo.
UNC grabbed 22 more rebounds and scored 19 second-chance points to doom FSU's hopes of its first-ever three-game winning streak over the Tar Heels.
"That's the ball game right there," said Clearwater High alum Okaro White, who led FSU with 15 points and six rebounds.
UNC's pressure also flustered FSU's offense early to help the Seminoles drop to 4-5 at home. Leading scorer Michael Snaer (nine points) finished in single digits for the third time this season, and No. 2 scorer White was scoreless at halftime.
The Seminoles made up for their top players' slow starts with six first-half steals and big moments from Montay Brandon. The freshman guard hit a 3 as the shot clock expired to give FSU a 21-19 lead with 6:12 left in the half and slammed home a dunk on the next possession after one of White's three steals.
"They are so good defensively," Williams said. "It was a struggle for us every possession."
So UNC made every possession a struggle for the Seminoles late.
FSU had two crucial steals late. The first ended with Hairston blocking a Snaer layup. The other, by Terrance Shannon with 59 seconds left and the Seminoles trailing by three, resulted in Marcus Paige taking the ball right back.
"We went in and came out with nothing," said Shannon, who finished with 12 points and three blocks.
But FSU's 11 3-pointers on 22 attempts gave the 'Noles a chance at opening the ACC season 3-0 for the first time. White had seven consecutive FSU points, including two free throws that put the Seminoles up 72-69 with 4:16 left.
But the 'Noles didn't score after that, ending the game with three turnovers, three failed jumpers and a missed layup. A basket by Jackson Simmons, who turned 20 Saturday, with 3:09 left gave UNC the lead for good.
"When the game's on the line," Hamilton said, "they made us pay."
FSU had one final chance and fought through confusion to get the ball to Snaer far beyond the arc with 16 seconds remaining.
"I don't know that I've competed against many guys that I had as much respect for as I do Michael Snaer," Williams said. "When he shot that ball out there … I thought it was going to go in."
But Snaer's shot didn't fall, and Paige came down with the rebound for the Heels, who avoided matching their worst start in league play.
Moments later, FSU fans began streaming for the exits.