For more than 35 minutes, Florida State went toe-to-toe with the North Carolina Tar Heels.
And it was nearly enough to overcome the four minute, 16-second scoreless streak that followed.
But P.J. Hairston scored four of his game-high 23 points in the game's final four minutes, allowing UNC to climb out of a three-point deficit for a 77-72 victory over FSU.
The loss denied Florida State (10-6, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) a first-ever 3-0 start in ACC play and a third straight victory over the Tar Heels.
“Obviously we're extremely disappointed that we couldn't close the game out after being up three with three minutes to go in the game,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We've been accustomed to making pretty good decisions closing games out – I think we've been one of the better teams in the league down the stretch at competing in closely contested games.
“But unfortunately, though, we didn't lose the game in that period.”
No, they didn't. Not entirely, anyway.
That dubious distinction fell to Florida State's efforts on the glass, where they simply dominated by the Tar Heels.
North Carolina (11-5, 1-2 ACC) held a staggering 41-19 rebounding advantage. Even worse, the Tar Heels grabbed 19 offensive rebounds – against FSU's six – and turned them into 19 second-chance points.
North Carolina had as many offensive rebounds as FSU had total rebounds. Photo by Travis Register
For a team that's hasn't been used to getting beat on the boards in recent years, that number was awfully tough to swallow.
“You have no idea. It's very frustrating,” said 6-foot-8 forward Terrance Shannon, who had four rebounds to go along with 12 points. “I mean, it's nerve-wracking.”
“That's the ball game, right there,” added junior forward Okaro White, who led the team with six rebounds and 15 points. “When you lose the rebounding game by 20 or 21, whatever it was, you should've lost by at least 10 or 15 in my eyes.
“When you get the stop and they get an offensive rebound, it just sucks the life out of you.”
Even still, the Seminoles had several opportunities to hand the Tar Heels their third straight loss. In a game that featured eight lead changes, FSU grabbed a four-point advantage with 7:37 remaining after Shannon's lay-up.
Despite several defensive breakdowns – FSU allowed UNC to shoot 48.3 percent from the field; 53.3 percent in the second half – the Seminoles seized the lead with their own offensive prowess.
Florida State made 11 of 22 3-point attempts, a figure sparked by Terry Whisnant's 4-of-7 effort, and Michael Snaer and Aaron Thomas added two 3's each.
When White hit two free throws to give the Seminoles a 72-69 lead with 4:16 to go, FSU appeared to be in control.
Okaro White scored a team-high 15 points — all of them in the second half. Photo by Travis Register
A Hairston dunk, Montay Brandon turnover and Jackson Simmons put-back later, the Tar Heels had the lead. Hairston followed up another turnover, this one by Snaer, with a long jumper that put UNC up 75-72.
“When you're giving a hungry, athletic, aggressive team opportunities to get second shots – when they're already talented enough to make them on the first shots – that's a bad formula,” Hamilton said.
But even as disastrous as the final minutes were, FSU still held the ball with an opportunity for a game-tying last shot.
The plan was to get the ball to Snaer, who had come up big at the end of so many games in his career. But North Carolina threw a defensive wrinkle, playing farther off of Snaer than FSU anticipated.
The Seminoles nearly turned it over on the in-bounds pass, and when Snaer finally got ahold of the ball, he quickly put up a shot from far beyond the 3-point line with 16 seconds left. It fell harmlessly away and UNC's Marcus Paige grabbed the rebound.
“Just getting the pass in, it kind of got chaotic, and I just made a bad decision at the end,” Snaer said.
“I don't know that I've competed against many guys that I have as much respect for as I do Michael Snaer,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “When he shot that ball out there, about 28 to 30 feet just left of the top of the key, I thought it was going to go in just because it was him.”
Paige made both of his free throws to provide the final margin and help the Tar Heels avoid just their second 0-3 ACC start in school history.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton looks on during his team's 77-72 loss to North Carolina. Photo by Travis Register
“When it got down to the stretch, they got tougher and we stayed the same,” Snaer said.
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