The North Carolina Tar Heels narrowly avoided their third conference loss of the season on Wednesday night, escaping Tallahassee with an 80-77 victory over Florida State.
After letting an 11-point halftime lead slip away slowly throughout the second half, the Tarheels needed a bit of a miracle to come out on top.
Ty Lawson took the inbounds pass with 3.2 seconds left, raced to the opposite end of the court, and calmly released a runner from just behind the three-point line that met nothing but net, improving the Tarheels to 18-2 on the year.
The game was one of constantly changing momentum. The Seminoles came out of the gate early and built a 26-17 lead. The Tar Heels had trouble early getting shots to fall, and Florida State was lights out. The Seminoles' defense was also strong, forcing the Tar Heels to rush their shots and settle for less-than-desirable looks.
Shortly after the 'Noles reached the 26-17 mark, the Tar Heels went on a run of their own. With 4:39 left in the half, the Heels tied it up at 28. In the last four minutes of the first half, Florida State made only one basket while the Tar Heels poured in 18 points to take a 46-35 lead at the break.
To the viewing eye, it looked as though North Carolina had finally settled into their rhythm and would blow the lead wide open in the second half. That was far from the case.
The Seminoles came out with a high level of intensity after halftime and avoided what would have been a costly Tar Heels run. There was a lot of tough defense, as the first five minutes of the second half produced only 10 points between the teams.
The teams stayed relatively even, with the Tar Heels holding on to their lead for most of the half. It became apparent that UNC was not going to be able to pull away in their usual fashion, and Florida State quietly started to creep closer.
After a pair of Danny Green free throws with a little over nine minutes left, the 'Noles made their move.
An 11-0 run saw Florida State eclipse North Carolina on the scoreboard, taking a 68-63 lead after a three-minute scoring drought.
From that point on, there were four ties and three lead changes. Toney Douglas scored the last 11 points of the game for the Seminoles, single-handedly taking on the Tar Heels defense with stunning success.
After Wayne Ellington missed a three-point attempt for the Heels down by three with 1:36 left and Florida State's Chris Singleton grabbed the rebound, it looked as though the 'Noles may have sealed the upset.
After a timeout, though, the 'Noles turned the ball over and Green took it the length of the court for a layup, getting fouled on the play, which created an opportunity for a tie.
Florida State came down the court and put the ball in Douglas' hands. His three-pointer clanged off the rim, but Singleton was able to grab the rebound, giving the 'Noles another shot.
The Seminoles decided to use the entire shot clock in their last possession, a good strategy that would have left the Tar Heels with little time to counter.
Douglas was unable to make anything happen off the dribble, and after a brief scramble, the Seminoles were whistled for a shot clock violation, setting up Lawson's dagger.
Tyler Hansbrough's 55-game streak of double digit scoring was snapped, as he finished with only eight points after getting in early foul trouble. His rhythm appeared to be off all night, and the Tar Heels, surprisingly, had their best stretch with Hansbrough sitting next to head coach Roy Williams.
Although the win may not be the prettiest the Tar Heels will tally this year, it is a win nonetheless. To go on the road in the ACC, take a team's best shot and survive it takes a lot of poise. UNC bent, but did not break, and in the end wound up victorious.
Lawson led the way for Carolina with 21 points and nine rebounds to go along with four assists. Green added 20 points and seven rebounds.
Ellington, who had been hot in the previous few games for Carolina, scored 14 points on just 3-for-13 shooting.
The Tar Heels will play at N.C. State on Saturday afternoon while the Seminoles have a week off and will play Georgia Tech at home next Thursday.
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