TALLAHASSEE -- As Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton looked up at the packed house in the Donald L. Tucker Center, he got a glimpse of the program he had been building towards for a few fleeting moments.
FSU, which won its first Atlantic Coast Conference title in school history last season, packed the house for Saturday afternoon’s game with traditional powerhouse North Carolina (11-5, 1-2) — a game the Seminoles (10-6, 2-1) came into favored over the Tar Heels.
And then, as quickly as the apparition came, it faded. Florida State lost to North Carolina 77-72 as the Seminoles had trouble corralling rebounds and scoring during the final four minutes.
“We’re extremely disappointed we couldn’t close the game out,” Hamilton said. “Unfortunately though, we didn’t lose the game in that [final four minute] period.”
The first half was a back-and-forth affair with neither team managing to pull ahead. Despite their edge in rebounding, the Tar Heels also turned the ball over nine times and allowed Florida State to hang around despite having just four combined points from three of their most prolific scorers.
Preseason All-American guard Michael Snaer, the fifth-leading scorer in the ACC, was held to just four points in the first half while juniors Okaro White and Ian Miller were held scoreless. Despite the lack of scoring from the Seminoles trio, FSU still managed to shoot 47.8 percent in the first half and went into the locker room trailing just 33-31.
Early in the second period it looked as though the Seminoles might even have the upper hand, knocking down three after three as the second half opened, finishing the game at 50 percent from behind the arc (11 of 22).
After a quiet start, White came alive when FSU needed him, contributing 15 second-half points, including 8-of-10 shooting from the line. Terry Whisnant also found a hot hand, going 4 of 7 from outside and adding 14 points.
But ultimately rebounding proved to be the Seminoles’ fatal flaw.
North Carolina outrebounded Florida State 41-19, dominating the offensive glass and controlling the paint on both ends of the floor. It finally caught up to the Seminoles in the final minutes as FSU’s shooters cooled and the team couldn’t manage to score over the last 4:16.
Down three with just 1:04 left, Florida State got a big steal by Terrance Shannon but lost the ball just as quickly, resetting the Tar Heels’ shot clock and letting them run the game down to 19 seconds. Even then Snaer had a shot to tie it, but his three-pointer rimmed out.
“Leonard does a great job, and has for many, many years,” UNC coach Roy Williams said after the game. “[FSU] is a big-time basketball team, and we’re as lucky as we can be, we’re going to take [this win] and get out of town as fast as we can.”