GREENSBORO, N.C. — For the second time in less than two weeks, Florida State had squandered a double-digit lead and found itself down in the second half against North Carolina.
This time, the 15th-ranked Seminoles pushed their way back in front, this time to reach the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship game.
Anthony Polite hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:06 left, and the Seminoles held off the Tar Heels 69-66 in Friday night’s semifinals and earn a matchup with Georgia Tech.
Balsa Koprivica had career highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds for his second career double-double to lead the second-seeded Seminoles (16-5), who blew a 13-point lead, then rallied from five down midway through the second half to grind out a tough win that came down to the final seconds.
It was nearly two weeks earlier that the Tar Heels rallied from 16 down to beat the Seminoles, with FSU faltering with a cold-shooting and mistake-filled performance after halftime. But the Seminoles clamped down defensively late Friday, holding the Tar Heels to one field goal over the final 4 minutes.
“I would just say we knew we knew we needed to make big key stops, and we’re all just motivated and committed to just making those stops as a team,” said freshman Scottie Barnes, who had 11 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“We knew what happened last time, so we just knew we just couldn’t give that up and this opportunity we have this time.”
The sixth-seeded Tar Heels (18-10) had a chance for a desperation play to tie it with 1 second left, but Anthony Harris couldn’t catch Leaky Black’s half-court pass to get up a tying 3-pointer.
That set up Florida State’s matchup with Georgia Tech, which advanced when its semifinal game against No. 16 Virginia was canceled due to a positive COVID-19 test, quarantining and contact tracing within the Cavaliers program.
Caleb Love scored 13 points to lead the Tar Heels, who shot 34% for the game and made just 1 of 8 shots as this one slipped away. Fellow freshman Kerwin Walton scored all 11 of his points after halftime.
UNC led 64-62 on three free throws by RJ Davis with 3:14 left, but didn’t score again until trailing by four in the final 5 seconds.
“Bottom line is their defense late in the game was much stronger than our offense was,” UNC coach Roy Williams said, adding: “We never got another good shot after (Davis’ free throws) the whole time.”
UNC: The Tar Heels opened the tournament with a 42-point win against Notre Dame – the program’s biggest margin ever in an ACC Tournament – and then a strong second-half performance helped them beat No. 22 Virginia Tech in Thursday’s quarterfinals. They fought back behind Walton’s outside shooting and a surge inside from Armando Bacot to go up 51-46, but they couldn’t hold onto that lead and struggled to find a clean look late. Still, they’ve done more than enough to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We thought with 2 minutes left, this was our game,” said Bacot, who had nine of his 12 after halftime.
FSU: The Seminoles were making a delayed tournament debut, with their scheduled quarterfinal against Duke called off when the Blue Devils withdrew due to a positive COVID-19 test and quarantines within the program. Now they’re hoping to claim a third tournament title, joining their 2012 crown as well as last year when they were awarded the trophy as the regular-season champion when the league shut the tournament down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“You never know what’s going to happen throughout these tough times,” Barnes said. “You’ve just got to be grateful for every game you get to play.”
Williams said the Virginia news caused him to briefly ponder whether the Tar Heels should play Friday.
“Yes, I talked about it with one of my staff members,” Williams said. “I did think about it, but I don’t think there’s any great answer. … I don’t think there’s any perfect answer. What’s going on in our world has really been a difficult time.”
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton had no hesitation.
“For me to not want to play because of somebody else’s unfortunate challenge, I thought would be tremendously unfair and disrespectful to the ACC and to the team, North Carolina – who wanted to play – and for the sacrifices that our players have made,” he said.
Saturday will mark the second time in league history that no North Carolina-based team will appear in the ACC championship game. The only other time came in 1990, when Final Four-bound Georgia Tech beat Virginia in Charlotte.