Theft, free throw lift UNC 61-60, deny 'Noles second straight upset.
By KEVIN BRAFFORD
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 9, 2003
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- With growing comes growing pains, as Florida State could attest Saturday.
Just one basket, or one defensive stop or, to coach Leonard Hamilton's way of thinking, a couple free-throw attempts kept the Seminoles from consecutive significant upsets.
But FSU got none of the above against North Carolina. Rather, the 'Noles absorbed a frustrating 61-60 loss, a setback almost as disappointing as Sunday's conquest of Atlantic Coast Conference kingpin Duke had been satisfying.
"To be right there and then not finish the game just kills you," forward Anthony Richardson said. "This one was there for the taking."
Instead, the 'Noles (11-9, 2-7 ACC), specifically Richardson, had it taken from them. Tied at 60 with 29.9 seconds to play, FSU had possession with the shot clock turned off. Overtime seemed the worst-case scenario.
But the Tar Heels (12-10, 3-6), favored by seven, wouldn't cooperate. With Richardson, ball in hand, looking for cutting teammates at the top of the key, freshman David Noel swatted the ball away, gained control and sprinted toward the other end.
Richardson caught Noel just as he was going up to dunk, putting a 45 percent free-throw shooter (9-for-20) on the line with 5.6 seconds remaining. The 6-foot-6 forward made the first before missing the second, and the best FSU, out of timeouts, could manage was Nate Johnson's desperation 35-footer at the buzzer, which fell short.
"You don't see a guy try to reach like that with the game on the line," said Richardson, who led the 'Noles with 17 points. "A lot of times you'll get called for a foul. But (Noel) made a good play, and I just didn't take care of the ball."
FSU, which lost to the Tar Heels 69-48 at home Dec. 22, took a 57-53 lead with 4:19 left on a Richardson basket. But on a day when leading scorer Tim Pickett was saddled with foul trouble that limited him to 20 minutes and a season-low eight points, and with an ill Trevor Harvey able to play only eight minutes, the 'Noles still had this one within their grasp against a team that went in with a five-game losing streak.
"We probably could have executed a little bit better than we did," Hamilton said. "Our guys played as hard as they could and they did what we asked them to do. They never got discouraged."
Afterward, however, their coach was. The 'Noles, who lost their 13th straight ACC road game, had five free-throw attempts to 24 for the Tar Heels, a gap not lost on Hamilton.
"I don't want to get started on it," he said, "because it won't do any good. I think the statistics speak for themselves. What it is is what it is, and it's something that we're just going to have to overcome."
More production like what freshman Benson Callier offered Saturday would help. The 6-6 forward, who had scored seven in ACC games for the season and didn't play against Duke, played a season-high 20 minutes and scored 13 on 5-for-11 shooting, three of those 3-pointers.
"Coach tells us to always be ready," said Callier, a St. Petersburg native who prepped at George Junior Republic High School in Pennsylvania. "I've been shooting the ball well in practice, so I had confidence today when I had open looks."
"We're getting better," Hamilton said. "I think it's clear that we're making progress."