Something about the Dean Dome brings out the best in Florida State.
For the third consecutive year since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, FSU swaggered into the University of North Carolina's back yard and made the bigger, deeper, more vaunted Tar Heels look slow and clumsy.
For the second straight year, though, FSU's effort came up just short. Carolina, frustrated by the Seminoles' new four-guard lineup, managed a 78-75 victory.
Had the Tar Heels' frontline not shot an astonishing 23-for-23 from the field, FSU probably would have pulled off its biggest upset since winning at UNC two years ago.
"I don't think I've ever had a team play so hard and not come out with a win," hoarse and red-faced FSU coach Pat Kennedy said after the game.
Chuck Graham, almost a forgotten man until Kennedy went to his new small lineup, teamed with Bob Sura to keep FSU in the game after Carolina went ahead in the second half. Graham scored 28 points, Sura 20. They combined for nine three-pointers, including five in the last 10 minutes as the Seminoles scrambled to regain the lead they held throughout the first half.
In the end, the Tar Heels' height and depth was enough to hold off FSU. In the last minute, an exhausted Sura and Charlie Ward both missed driving shots that could have tied the score. Backup center Kirk Luchman missed the front end of a one-and-one with the score 75-73 and 8.7 seconds on the clock.
Carolina, which hit only 12 of 27 free throws on the day, then converted 3 or 4 to put the game away.
Until then, the game was much tenser than the packed Dean E. Smith Center crowd had counted on. FSU, a shadow of the team that blew a 21-point lead here last season, was supposed to oblige the Tar Heels (23-5, 9-4) with an easy victory in the last home game for four seniors that were the heart of the 1993 national championship team.
Instead, FSU led 19-13 after six minutes. Using the small lineup that bothered Duke earlier in the week, the Seminoles used slashing drives to the basket and accurate three-point shooting to leave Carolina's huge frontline looking flat-footed.
Seven-footer Andre Reid, the Seminoles' only starter over 6 feet 4, picked up his third foul only 6:20 into the game. FSU still kept the lead throughout the first 20 minutes, going to halftime with a 36-34 advantage.
Carolina jumped to a nine-point lead soon after intermission, but the Heels' dreadful shooting from anywhere beyond point-blank range helped to keep FSU close. Eric Montross, Brian Reese, Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse and Kevin Salvadori did not miss. Except for one Wallace jumper, though, none of their 23 shots came from outside the shadow of the rim. Meanwhile, Donald Williams, hero of last year's Final Four, clanged 7 of 8 three-point attempts. And nobody in Baby Blue could shoot free throws.