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Florida State fights hard on Senior Night, but this time the comeback bid falls short

Three-point shooting is kind of a big deal.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

A little more than 48 hours after Matthew Cleveland tossed in a crowd silencer to complete the largest comeback in ACC history, the Seminoles returned to the court for Senior Night against the bluest of the ACC blue bloods. And for a moment it felt like history could repeat itself in short order. But this time, after trailing by 18 at the half, FSU couldn’t get it closer than 4 down the stretch and the North Carolina Tar Heels escaped Tallahassee with a 77-66 win, keeping their NCAA Tournament hopes alive for at least one more week.

First Half:

The Tar Heels opened up the game the way many FSU opponents have opened games this season; making threes. Leaky Black, Pete Nance, and Caleb Love helped UNC make three of their first five shots from deep and the Heels grabbed a quick 12-6 lead.

However, the opening half plot did have a bit of a twist, in the form of North Carolina turnovers. Jalen Warley, who has perhaps turned into FSU’s most disruptive defender over the last month, got his hands on multiple passes. And while none of them resulted in a steal, it did create something that we honestly haven’t seen too much from opposing offenses this season: indecision. With the indecision came some rushed passes, or in some cases just flat out sloppy execution by Carolina and half way through the first half the Heels were turning it over on 46.7% of their possessions. This, combined with getting to the free throw line, allowed FSU to still be in the ball game despite shooting just 5-16 from the field over the first 12 minutes.

At the under-8 media timeout, which came at the 6:23 mark, UNC led 20-19 in a game showcasing why neither team is in the top echelon of the league. To this point, both squads were struggling to string together four or five consecutive possessions that would allow for a game-altering run.

Out of the media timeout it would appear that the Seminoles would get a chance to take their first lead. But after UNC bricked two free throws, Armando Bacot—playing with two first half fouls—snagged the offensive rebound and found an open Nance in the corner for the Northwestern transfer’s second three of the game. UNC then drained two more perimeter shots to make it 9 points in 80 seconds, and just like that the Tar Heels led by 10.

At the other end, FSU just couldn’t make shots. Some of them were open, while some were guys just lowering their head and driving into traffic for wild shots (you know the usual suspects). Regardless, the outcome was the same and at the under-4 media timeout the Seminoles were shooting an abysmal 6-22 from the floor.

The final few minutes of the half featured Caleb Mills doing a whole lot of dribbling, Naheem McLeod missing free throws, and UNC raining in threes. Remember that game-changing run? Yeah, it happened. North Carolina closed the half on a 13-2 run and what was once a close game had been blown open to a 43-25 halftime deficit for the ‘Noles.

The shooting numbers told it all. North Carolina had more made threes (11) than Florida State had made field goals (9). And while UNC finished the half turning it over on 28% of their possessions, they were pretty clean the final 6 minutes.

Second Half:

The second stanza began with FSU showing some fight. Warley got the ‘Noles started with a difficult finish at the rim through traffic and then Green Jr made his first triple of the game to quickly cut the lead to 13. Another three by Nance quieted the crowd momentarily but Cameron Corhen, released from first half foul jail, did a great job of following a miss and getting the put-back.

But while the ‘Noles had chances to claw their way back even closer, they just could not consistently finish. Through 29 minutes, Cleveland and Green Jr were a combined 3-18, while Mills was 5-11. That’s just too many missed shots by your three primary scorers to expect to be within 10.

To be clear, FSU didn’t quit. Corhen, in particular was making an impact all over the court, whether it was tapping out offensive rebounds to teammates, grabbing his own boards at both ends, or finishing through contact at the rim. Baba Miller also showed off his potential with a couple of creative finishes at the basket. And with 5:41 left, Green Jr made two free throws to bring FSU to within 11—the closest the Seminoles had been since 2:41 left in the first half.

At this point you could detect a little momentum building for the home team. The Tucker Center, with a solid crowd all things considered, was starting to get that classic buzz that used to be so common in this dome. The buzz turned into a roar when Miller completed a great finish in transition off a feed from Warley to cut the lead to 9. Warley then gave fans even more hope by hitting a pair at the line, and suddenly the Tar Heels lead was just 64-57 with 3:49 left.

After a UNC miss, Mills came out of the scramble with a defensive rebound and hit a rolling De’Ante Green for a layed-in ally opp. Mills then grabbed a steal on the next possession leading to Warley getting fouled at the rim and making 1 of 2 at the line. After the teams traded baskets it was 66-62 with just under two minutes left and Carolina late in the shot clock. With FSU closing out hard, Black faked the three from the corner and drove in for a rim-rocking, crowd silencing dunk to put the Tar Heels up 6.

Box Score and Takeaways:

—The loss dropped FSU to 9-21 on the season, tying the program record for most losses in a season. They’ll need to win the national title in order to avoid setting a new mark.

—FSU actually made more field goals in the game than UNC, with the ‘Noles going 25-60 compared to UNC’s 23-53. But the visitors from Tobacco Road made 14-29 from beyond the arc, versus just 3-14 for FSU and that made all the difference. Think of it this way: UNC had more individual players make 3+ deep shots (Nance, Black, Love, and Davis all made 3) than FSU had total made threes. Hard to win with that.

—Stop me if this sounds familiar. I like Cam Corhen. He only played 20 minutes due to Hamilton’s two-foul jail, but in those 20 minutes he made plays all over. The freshman finished with a +7 in the plus/minus (not the be all end all, but +7 in an 11 point loss says something) and just knows how to play ball. Please, basketball gods, let us have a healthy Corhen in garnet and gold next season.

—Clevland Yates got the start on senior night. He’s a walk-on who’s been through a lot of battles with some great FSU squads, and overcome injury himself. He also wears number 42 to honor trailblazer Jackie Robinson. Thanks for being part of the program, Mr. Yates, your unconquered spirit will serve you well.

Up Next: Florida State heads to Virginia Tech for their final game of the season this Saturday. The game will be featured on ESPN2 at 4:00 ET. VT is currently favored in the matchup, with a 91.4% chance to win, according to ESPN analytics.