Uh, oh. Once again, North Carolina put a dagger into the Seminoles' pending celebration, as freshman star Harrison Barnes nailed a 3-pointer with three seconds to go to give the Tar Heels a 72-70 victory. It was reminiscent of three years ago, when then-freshman star Ty Lawson hit a buzzer shot to beat Florida State in Tallahassee.
This loss didn't crush Florida State's NCAA Tournament hopes, but it leaves a shred of doubt as the Seminoles head to Tobacco Road for their regular-season finale March 6 at N.C. State. At issue is the emotional effect of a game like this and whether Florida State (20-9, 10-5 ACC) can recover enough to head on the road and play with the same kind of energy. The good news for the Seminoles is how badly N.C. State is struggling.
The North Carolina game is one the Seminoles knew could be the difference in feeling secure or uncertain heading into the ACC tournament. The Seminoles can finish no worse than fourth place in the regular season, but they would get a third-place finish if they win at N.C. State. It would have all been simplified with a dramatic win against Tar Heels.
"We can't have a pity party. We got one game left on the road, and it's very important to our basketball team," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said.
Playing without star junior Chris Singleton, who missed his fourth game with a fractured foot and may be out for the rest of the season, the Seminoles got 13 points from lone senior Derwin Kitchen and their best combined bench effort (27 points) of the season.
The Seminoles' performance was especially impressive considering the Tar Heels had won by 20 points on Feb. 6 -- a game Singleton played -- in Chapel Hill, N.C.
"I hope people understand how good we actually are, because I don't think people understand that. That when we come to play, we're a very, very, very good team," Florida State guard Michael Snaer said.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: The March 2 loss to North Carolina was one of Florida State's best games in several years, considering the competition. There were nine ties, nine different lead changes in the first half. North Carolina went up 67-60 with 3:56 left and seemed to have the game in hand. The solace for Florida State was how the Seminoles rallied with different players to take the lead on two free throws by Derwin Kitchen with 18 seconds to go. Kitchen also hit a running shot with 50 seconds to go to cut North Carolina's lead to one. The Seminoles' lament was missing six free throws in the second half.
-- The Seminoles shot 48.3 percent, one of their best efforts of the season, and finished with the low total of 10 turnovers in the March 2 loss to North Carolina. They finished with more assists (13) than turnovers for one of the few times this season.
-- With its win against Miami on Feb. 26, Florida State jumped four spots in the RPI, moving from 52nd to 48th. This makes the Seminoles the third-highest rated ACC team behind Duke and North Carolina.
-- The Seminoles used the game against Miami to celebrate a reunion of their 1972 team, the only one in school history to reach the Final Four and play for a national title. FSU lost to UCLA in the title game. That team's coach, Hugh Durham, all of his assistants and all but one member of that team came back for the special event. Ron King, the star shooting guard from that squad, wore an all-yellow suit, similar to the all-gold suit he wore when having his jersey retired at FSU in 2009.
-- The Seminoles' win against Miami assured the third consecutive 10-win ACC seasons. It's the first time that's happened since FSU joined the ACC in 1991-92.
BY THE NUMBERS: 53 -- Number of ACC victories Florida State has amassed since the 2005-06 season, through Feb. 27. It tied FSU with Maryland, which trailed only Duke and North Carolina for the most among ACC teams during that span.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think we need to start taking any bows at this point. We can't let ourselves get too excited because we have a nationally-ranked team coming here next that embarrassed us. We've got to stay humble." -- Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, following his team's win Feb. 26 against Miami.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at N.C. State, March 6
KEY MATCHUPS: Depending on what happens against the Tar Heels, this final regular-season game could be significant for the Seminoles' seeding in the ACC Tournament and as a possible closing argument for the NCAA Tournament selection committee. It's the only matchup this season with the Wolfpack, which may be fighting for head coach Sidney Lowe's future. The Seminoles' main challenge will be N.C. State's talented freshman forward, C.J. Leslie, who has lived up to advance billing as one of the top players from the 2010 recruiting class. He scored in double figures in six consecutive games, before getting held to just three points in the Feb. 26 win against Georgia Tech. N.C. State has quality guards, led by Scott Wood and Tracy Smith. The Wolfpack could need this win to secure a winning season.
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman F Okaro White hit the biggest shot of his brief career, banking in a shot with 31 seconds to go, after Miami cut FSU's lead to 62-59 in the Feb. 26 game. White finished with 17 points and seven rebounds as he continues to help fill the void left by Chris Singleton's injury.
-- Junior C Xavier Gibson wowed the crowd March 2 with a one-handed dunk along the baseline while sailing over the head of North Carolina's John Henson, a Tampa resident. Gibson may have played his best game since returning from knee and hand injuries seven games ago. He scored six points, had three rebounds and a block.
-- Senior G Derwin Kitchen was the only scholarship senior player honored, but the Seminoles also treated two walk-ons who have rarely, Andrew Rutledge and A.J. Yawn, to the same pregame treatment March 2. They got frame jerseys and were joined by their parents.