Hoop It Up

With three games remaining in the regular season, Florida State (18-9, 6-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) can finish no worse than 6-10 in the ACC. While that was good enough for the Seminoles to reach the NCAA Tournament in 1997-98, is it good enough this season?

Florida State nearly pulled off another miracle rally Saturday in North Carolina. In fact, UNC coach Roy Williams reminded his team at halftime of its Jan. 22 embarrassment, when UNC allowed the Seminoles to come back from 24 points to win.

This time FSU nearly overcame an 18-point deficit, pulling within one point before falling to No. 16 UNC 78-71.

In the end, UNC (16-7, 6-6 ACC) outrebounded FSU 48-28, held the Seminoles to 41.1 percent shooting and converted 10 of its last 12 free throws -- even though the Tar Heels were an awful 21-for-37 from the line overall.

"We were very fortunate to even be in the game when we were outplayed so poorly,'' said Leonard Hamilton, whose Seminoles have dropped 22 consecutive league games.

"We found a way to get close, but as poorly as we played, I'm not really sure had we won the game that would have been the right thing.''

Still, the "right thing" would have helped the Seminoles' postseason hopes. Many folks are suggesting the Seminoles have already done enough to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Others are not so sure, including the Seminoles.

"I am not even worrying about what people are saying," FSU guard Tim Pickett said. "Just let everything fall where it falls. Eitehr we're going to show people that we're ready for the NCAA or just show that we matured from last year."

The maturation process continues.

The Collegiate Baksetball News had FSU ranked 41st in the RPI heading into the weekend's games. While the Seminoles have four victories over ranked conference opponents, they continue to struggle on the road.

North Carolina was the first of four ranked opponents as FSU looks to close the regular-season on a good note. The Tar Heels also entered Saturday's game ranked third in the nation in scoring, averaging 85.9 points per game.

Still, FSU felt it wasted a golden opportunity to prove itself.

"They're a great team, but they have a lot of weaknesses that they can't hold leads," Pickett said.

"We knew if we got our defense going, we could break the lead down. Fortunately, that's what we did. The little things really broke us down at the end."

With the win, UNC jumped ahead of FSU in the conference standings by a whisker. The Seminoles, of course, have another difficult road test on Wednesday at No. 15 Wake Forest.

Williams, for one, came away impressed with the Seminoles -- once again.

"The thing that bothered me when they made the great comeback was that they outhustled us for loose balls,'' Williams said.

"That made me about as frustrated as I've been all year because we can't do those things."

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