ATLANTA — A contentious, bizarre and fierce ACC tournament Saturday produced a championship-game rematch of a January encounter that still makes the head spin.
North Carolina and Florida State, the conference's most gifted teams, advanced to Sunday's title contest with semifinal escapes over North Carolina State and Duke, respectively.
This after four-plus hours of coaching intrigue, one extra-large brain cramp, countless debatable whistles and a 40-foot heave that nearly extended the memorable afternoon.
"I guess this was just another typical ACC blowout," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said after the Seminoles' 62-59 victory.
"You're upset, you're (torqued) off, everything," N.C. State forward C.J. Williams said after the Wolfpack's 69-67 loss.
What else to expect from four supremely motivated teams?
Duke was hunting its fourth consecutive championship and 11th in 14 years, not to mention a possible No. 1 NCAA tournament seed.
Florida State seeks its first ACC title and acknowledgment that it's not just a football school.
North Carolina also is hopeful for a No. 1 NCAA seed. Moreover, the Tar Heels don't seem to much like the Wolfpack.
Conversely, N.C. State was attempting to erase any doubt that it deserves the program's first NCAA bid since 2006.
And so these teams clashed, contesting most every shot, pass and cut, a clear rebuke to anyone who believes this event's stakes don't merit or extract total effort. It wasn't elegant, but man, it sure was fun to watch.
Duke erased a 10-point second-half deficit and reclaimed the lead until Michael Snaer's 3-pointer put Florida State ahead for good at 58-57 and rekindled visions of his buzzer-beating three that beat the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor in January.
"It was not an X-and-O game today," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It was an effort game."
So impressed was Krzyzewski that he approached Snaer in a locker-room cold tub afterward to shake his hand.
But even after Snaer's shot and a later seat-of-the-pants rebound and alert timeout, Florida State could not exhale until Seth Curry's 40-footer bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
"Quite frankly, I thought Seth's shot was going in," Krzyzewski said.
The view from press row was similar. Curry's shot tracked the bucket but was just long.
N.C. State's Richard Howell couldn't release a last-second shot because North Carolina's Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock prevented him from catching a long inbounds pass from Williams, a former high school quarterback.
Wolfpack partisans howled over the contact, but officials Ray Natili, Tim Nestor and Brian Dorsey swallowed their whistles. As they did when Tar Heels point guard Kendall Marshall lowered his right shoulder into Alex Johnson on the game-winning drive with 10.2 seconds remaining.
The Howell call was a coin-flip. The Marshall-Johnson collision should have been a charge.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried was irritated with the referees for much of the game, never more so than when C.J. Leslie, his best player, committed his fourth and fifth fouls in 90 seconds midway through the second half.
Gottfried also was irked at his staff for not informing him that Leslie had four fouls before his disqualifying fifth.
"Miscommunication by our staff," Gottfried said. "That's our responsibility."
Gottfried declined to comment on the officiating, and Williams shrugged it off.
"We don't worry about that stuff," he said. "We're going to play through everything."
"I believe we've proven we belong in the NCAA tournament," Williams added. "Everyone said we had to beat Virginia (in the quarterfinals). We did that. I heard this morning we had to be competitive against Carolina. We did that."
This is North Carolina's 31st ACC final in the event's 59 years. It is Florida State's second in 21 years of conference membership.
In their only regular-season encounter, the Seminoles blistered the visiting Tar Heels 90-57 on Jan. 14, North Carolina's most-lopsided defeat in Roy Williams' nine years as coach.
"Everything seemed to be right that night," Florida State guard Deividas Dulkys said.
Especially for Dulkys, a senior from Lithuania. He made 12-of-14 shots, 8-of-10 from three, for a career-high 32 points.
In 14 subsequent games, Dulkys is averaging 5.8 points. He's cracked double figures twice and never exceeded 14.
Talk about anomalies.
"We know," Dulkys said, "it's not going to be easy this time."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun