ATLANTA – North Carolina's big comeback against Florida State fell short, leaving the Tar Heels bemoaning the slow start which put them in such a bind.
The Seminoles weren't missing many early and built a 16-point lead in the first half. North Carolina fought back, cutting the deficit to just one in the final minute before losing 85-82.
"I don't think we really competed until the second half," said North Carolina's P.J. Hairston. "I'm more upset just with the fact we didn't come out with the energy we wanted."
No. 4 North Carolina played without forward John Henson for the second straight game. Henson, who hurt his left wrist in Friday night's win over Maryland and also missed Saturday's win over North Carolina State, wasn't satisfied with how the wrest responded in pregame drills, according to coach Roy Williams.
Williams said he has a better team with the 6-foot-11 Henson, who averages 13.8 points and a team-leading 10.1 rebounds per game. But he said he didn't want the loss blamed on his team missing the starter.
"I have no problem with my team and the way we competed, particularly the last 12 minutes in a big-time basketball game," Williams said. "We gave ourselves a chance. We kept trying to pry the door open and they kept closing the door. They made shots down the stretch."
Tournament MVP Michael Snaer scored 18 points the Seminoles made 11 of 22 3-point shots in winning their first Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
Florida State (24-9) proved its 33-point blowout of the Tar Heels during the regular season was no fluke.
But this one went to the wire, as North Carolina (29-5) nearly came all the way back from a 16-point deficit in the first half. P.J. Hairston missed a tying 3 at the buzzer.
North Carolina's best chance may have come when Florida State's Okaro White missed a free throw when the Seminoles led 83-82 with 17.5 seconds remaining.
Instead of pounding the ball inside, a wide-open Kendall Marshall missed a 3 with five seconds left.
Marshall, who just missed his third straight double-double of the tournament with 15 points and nine assists, tugged at his jersey with his head down as he headed back down the court after his miss.
The Tar Heels were forced to foul after Florida State came away with the rebound. Deividas Dulkys made two free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining.
Marshall, who hit a 3-pointer to cut Florida State's lead to 83-82 with 30 seconds remaining, defended the shot selection after the game. He noted it was difficult to pass inside to Tyler Zeller, who had his normal double-coverage.
"We were going to get the best available shot," Marshall said. "We executed the play perfectly. Zeller set a back screen and I was able to get into the lane. I kicked it out to Reggie (Bullock). My man and Zeller's man both went with Zeller and left me wide open.
"I might have rushed it a little bit. It would have been nice if it went down, but that's the way the ball goes sometimes."
It was the first time since Maryland's title in 2004 that a team outside the state of North Carolina won the tournament.
Williams said he was encouraged by his team's finish.
"We didn't get off to a good start," he said. "We didn't play well in the first half. We didn't play especially well in the start of the second half, but the last 12 minutes it was the North Carolina team that I've seen recently and it was the North Carolina team that I like and we want to be."
North Carolina couldn't match the Seminoles' outside shooting, making only 5 of 20 3-pointers.
Harrison Barnes led North Carolina with 23 points, while Zeller had 19 points and 12 rebounds.
It was only the second time in the last 16 years that a team other than North Carolina or Duke has won the ACC tournament.
After the two free throws by Dulkys pushed the lead to three points, the Tar Heels had one more chance.
Zeller inbounded to Hairston at midcourt and he quickly called a timeout. Only six-tenths of a second went off the clock, and North Carolina inbounded again from a more favorable position. Hairston got a decent look at the tying shot, a long, straight-on 3. But it bounced off the side of the rim.
The Tar Heels lost in the ACC championship game for the second year in a row.
Hairston, who had 13 points, said he wasn't concerned the loss could cost the team a No. 1 seed in the NCAA field announced later Sunday.
"No, we weren't really too concerned with that," Hairston said. "Seeding really doesn't matter too much."