ATLANTA — As soon as North Carolina's last, desperation shot caromed off the rim, Florida State's Toney Douglas could have been forgiven if he made a mad dash around the court looking for someone, anyone, to hug.
But he simply fell to the floor. You call that a celebration?
"It was just such a wonderful feeling," he said. "That's the No. 1 team in the country, and we worked so hard to be at this point. It's all coming true."
For the first time, FSU will play for the ACC title as Douglas and his teammates parlayed clutch shooting (67 percent in the second half) and staunch defense in the waning seconds into a dramatic 73-70 win that floored top-seeded and top-ranked North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals Saturday.
The No. 22-ranked Seminoles (25-8), seeded fourth, meet third-seeded and ninth-ranked Duke in today's finale.
Before this season, the Seminoles had never won two games in the ACC tournament and last won a league tournament title in 1991, their final year in the old Metro Conference.
"From where we're coming from, it's significant because, let's face it, we've been something of a mystery to people all year long," coach Leonard Hamilton said. "And even though we had an awful lot of confidence in what we could become, not many people really thought where we are now was possible."
More have become believers after FSU snapped a 10-game skid to UNC on this stage.
The Tar Heels (28-4) have won 17 ACC tournament titles.
"We're extremely disappointed, but at the same time, we congratulate Florida State and Leonard Hamilton," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "Their team has had a big-time year."
It didn't hurt the Seminoles' possibilities to reach greater heights that UNC junior point guard Ty Lawson, the conference player of the year, missed his second straight game with a right big toe injury. Don't forget, he's the guy who hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in an 80-77 win in Tallahassee.
Still, star senior forward Tyler Hansbrough (22 points, 11 rebounds, five steals) and junior sharpshooting guard Wayne Ellington (24 points) looked like they might be enough.
After Douglas drew a foul and converted the one-and-one situation to give him a game-high 27 points and his team a 71-70 lead, Hansbrough got the ball in the low post and tried to dribble into the lane, a play that usually means a basket or free throws. But FSU senior forward Uche Echefu got a hand on the ball.
"Just a little bit; I tapped it a little bit," he said.
"I'm not really sure what happened," Hansbrough said.
The ball came loose, and FSU sophomore guard Derwin Kitchen, who struggled in the quarterfinal win against Georgia Tech before he hit the winning basket, came up with his third steal.
"I was kind of shocked. … He fumbled it, and I just happened to be in the right position to grab it," said Kitchen, who was fouled with 15.7 seconds left and hit both ends of a one-and-one to cap a strong performance (11 points, nine rebounds, six assists and one turnover).
UNC still had a chance, actually two, but Douglas, the ACC defensive player of the year, doggedly pressured Ellington and forced him to misfire on a 3-pointer with three seconds left. Senior forward Danny Green (1-of-12 on the day) then missed his potential tying 3-pointer, which is when Douglas, well, celebrated.
"We came a long way since the preseason with six new guys coming in," said Douglas, who was in his "own little world" on the floor for only a few minutes before freshmen Luke Loucks and Chris Singleton joined him. "But I still think we're hungry. We never end up being satisfied."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.