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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tar Heels’ raging rally falls shy to Florida State in ACC finale

Posted by on Sun, Mar 11, 2012 at 4:18 PM

Marshalls legs held up despite the grueling pace
ESPN/ACC NETWORK — For one half, March looked a lot like January. North Carolina fell behind by 16 points to Florida State and approached blowout defeat territory, and of course no one has forgotten the 33-point whipping FSU applied to Carolina a couple months ago in Tallahassee.

But the Heels battled gamely and ultimately missed a shot for the lead with seconds remaining, gracefully bowing to the Noles 85-82. Down one point, Kendall Marshall fired an open three-pointer that bounced off long — he’d made a far more difficult shot seconds earlier — and after FSU made two free throws, P.J. Hairston’s desperate three to tie missed the mark.

Florida State won its first ACC Tournament title. The Seminoles punctuated their dominance this season against the Tobacco Road powers — compiling a 2-0 record versus UNC and a 2-1 mark against Duke — and undoubtedly improved their NCAA seed substantially after dispatching both the Heels and Devils this weekend.

Carolina failed to slow FSU’s three-point shooting in both match-ups. The Noles buried 11-for-23 from long-range and shot an astonishing 58 percent overall. Meanwhile, the Heels connected on just 39 percent from the field and 5-for-20 on threes. They were able to remain competitive due to a 12-rebound advantage and by making 13 more free throws than the Noles.

John Henson’s absence rocked the club’s defense. Dressed out and available to play “in case of emergency,” the team clearly missed his ability to dominate the interior. Harrison Barnes stepped up with 23 points and seven rebounds, while Tyler Zeller added 19 and 12. Marshall finished with 15 points and nine assists.

P.J. Hairston may serve as the most positive takeaway. Suffering through a devastating slump that has spanned two months, Hairston drained 3-for-7 on threes to finish with 13 points. The Heels need someone to score off the bench even with a healthy Henson in the lineup, and Hairston could boost the club’s ailing perimeter shooting.

Now it’s big picture time. Apart from those emotionally connected to the teams, conference tournament finals tend to generate little residual interest. The NCAA Tournament selection show airs at 6 p.m., and from that point forward all anyone cares about are the brackets.

Pundits disagreed immediately after the game whether Carolina would garner a No. 1 seed, but at worst the Heels should get a No. 2 seed and likely not placed in the same bracket as juggernaut Kentucky (which did lose today as well).

Duke likely will receive a No. 2 seed, and N.C. State hopes to creep into the field as an at-large team.

Click here to view the UNC/FSU box score.

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