CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Yesterday, Florida State coach Pat Kennedy was thumbing through the North Carolina basketball press guide when his eyes caught the section on its storied comebacks.
Little did Kennedy know that his 19th-ranked Seminoles would be added to the list of victims.
Trailing Florida State by 21 with a little less than 12 minutes left, and by 73-54 with nine minutes remaining, the third-ranked Tar Heels stopped the Seminoles cold with 16 straight points and didn't stop until they had secured a stunning 82-77 victory before a frenzied sellout crowd of 21,572 at the Smith Center.
"What do you say after that?" North Carolina coach Dean Smith said after his team outscored Florida State 28-4 in the last nine minutes to win its ninth straight game. "What a great comeback. You get upset with a team for being down and now it's hard to be mad at them the way they fought and came back against a quality team."
It turned out to be the second-largest deficit the Tar Heels have come back from, nearly equaling the early 22-point deficit they erased last season against Wake Forest. It is believed to be the biggest second-half comeback by North Carolina.
Though they certainly put on a stunning display of defense and three-point shooting, the Tar Heels were helped by the fact that Florida State tired down the stretch. A combination of Sunday's overtime victory against Duke and a lack of depth caused the lightning-quick Seminoles to slow down enough for North Carolina (17-1, 6-0 ACC) to catch up, then pass them.
"We seemed tired in the last five minutes and the whole momentum of the game shifted," said Kennedy.
After leading by 17 at halftime, and by 21 points with 11:43 remaining, Florida State (13-6, 5-2) held on for dear life. The Tar Heels, who had missed all nine of their three-point shots in the first half, began making trey after trey, and cut their deficit. North Carolina took the lead, 78-77, on a steal and layup by George Lynch and never looked back.
The Seminoles, who had their five-game winning streak broken, completely fell apart. They took bad shots, made ill-advised passes and called their last timeout with 1:56 remaining. Even Kennedy lost his composure, getting a technical foul during North Carolina's game-winning run that began with 16 straight points.
"I think they kind of relaxed," said Lynch, whose last steal was his seventh of the game and made him the school's all-time leader. "We took the momentum after they got called for a technical."
In retrospect, the Tar Heels had started to grab the momentum even before the T with 7:09 to play. They were already 13 points into the 16-0 spurt, a streak that included back-to-back-to-back three-pointers by Lynch, Donald Williams and Henrik Rodl.
"Once they [threes] started to go in, I knew we could make up the difference," said Williams, who led North Carolina with 19 points.
They did. A rather strange game that began with Smith benching starters Derrick Phelps and Brian Reese for being two minutes late to a team meeting, a game that saw center Eric Montross sit out the last 15:22 of the first half after picking up his third personal, ended in an all-too-familiar way.
Afterward, Kennedy could only smile. He thought back to that section in the press guide. To reading about the comeback against No. 2 Virginia in 1983, when top-ranked North Carolina scored the last 11 points and a fellow named Jordan had the last four.
Now it was Florida State's turn.
"Obviously," he said, "this is one that is going to rank right up there with them."