North Carolina junior guard Ty Lawson's running three-pointer at the buzzer gave the No. 5 Tar Heels an 80-77 win over Florida State on Wednesday night. The buzzer-beater also shattered FSU's hopes of upsetting one the best teams in the nation.
"Great teams make great plays," head coach Leonard Hamilton said in his postgame press conference. "They made one more great play than we did. Unfortunately, we came away with a loss."
Florida State had opportunities to take a lead in the final seconds but left the door open for the Tar Heels to win the game in dramatic fashion.
After battling back from a deficit of 13 points (52-39) early in the second half, the Seminoles found themselves tied with the Tar Heels with just over a minute remaining. But what was a three-point advantage turned into that tie following a Danny Green lay-up where he was fouled, and made the free throw.
With the game tied at 77, senior point guard Toney Douglas missed a three-pointer with just under 40 seconds left. Fortunately for the 'Noles, the missed shot was rebounded by Chris Singleton giving FSU a second chance to retake the lead. After a timeout at the 12-second mark, Douglas was unable to get off a shot in the final seconds leading to a shot clock violation. That gave UNC just 3.2 seconds but that was enough for Lawson to break the hearts of a crowd of 11,333 in the Tucker Center.
"I wish I could do it over again," Douglas said. "They were kind of double teaming me and had a big on me with long length, long arms. But I shouldn't have settled for my jumps hot. I should have taken it to the rack or found one of my teammates. It didn't go that way. I will learn from it and I know it won't happen again."
Lawson, who finished with 21 points on the evening, took the inbounds pass, raced 70 feet before hoisting a three-pointer off one leg at the top of the arc. The ball found nothing but the bottom of the net.
"The guy just made a great play," Hamilton said afterwards. "He made a running three. I think most people would have taken that opportunity."
As North Carolina celebrated, Florida State's anguish and frustration was obvious. Douglas, who finished with 32 points including 24 during the second half comeback, stood with his head hung, noticeably exhausted from the comeback effort.
"It was very disappointing," Douglas said. "After the game I cried my tears out it hurt so bad. That is my last time playing North Carolina probably, especially in the Civic Center, and I know we played so good even though we had our moments when they had us down but we fought so hard and came back. I think we deserved to win that game but it didn't go our way."
Florida State (16-5, 3-3 ACC) raced out to an early advantage leading by as many as nine points with just over eight minutes remaining in the first half. However, FSU allowed the Tar Heels to put together a 32-13 run over the final eight minutes of the half, and trailed 46-35 heading into the locker room.
"I thought we lost our focus a little bit on the defensive end, and we didn't do a very good job of keeping them off the boards," Hamilton said about the bad stretch to close out the half. "What was kind of a nip and tuck game, became a ten or eleven point deficit going into half time. Sometimes it's very difficult to dig out of a hole like that."
North Carolina (18-2, 4-2 ACC) was led by Lawson's 21 points, but also got 20 from Danny Green and 14 from Wayne Ellington. Senior Tyler Hansbrough was only able to muster eight points as he battled foul trouble throughout the game.
The Tar Heels shot just 38.1 percent from the field and committed 21 turnovers that led to 33 FSU points.
Offensively, Florida State shot 46.7 percent and committed 19 turnovers. The 'Noles were dominated on the glass where Carolina grabbed 42 rebounds, including 21 offensive boards, compared to just 34 for the Seminoles.
Douglas, whose 32 points was a career-high at Florida State, was 9-of-20 from the floor and 13-of-14 at the free throw line. The only other Seminole in double figures was senior forward Uche Echefu, who added 14 points and eight rebounds for the Seminoles.
Florida State will host Georgia Tech on next Thursday at 7 p.m.