TALLAHASSEE (AP) — North Carolina veteran players came to Tallahassee on a mission Saturday.
“I was just saying ’33’ because that’s how much they beat us by last year,” said North Carolina’s P.J. Hairston, referencing to a 90-57 defeat to Florida State last January that ranks among the worst in the Tar Heels’ fabled basketball history. “We wanted to come in and turn it around and not let them get that comfort zone like they got last year.”
Hairston did his part and then some with a career-high 23 points as North Carolina defeated the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion Seminoles 77-72 Saturday, almost a year to day after being humiliated here.
Hairston made 9 of 14 shots, including four of nine from beyond the arc for North Carolina, which shot 48.3 percent overall and 40 percent from 3-point range. Hairston’s final points came on a jumper that boosted the North Carolina lead to 75-72 with 2:10 left. Marcus Paige hit two free throws with 11 seconds remaining to seal the outcome.
Florida State didn’t score the final 4:16 after Oakaro White’s 3-point play gave the Seminoles a 72-69 lead.
The Tar Heels (11-5, 1-2) led 33-31 at halftime and took the lead for good at 73-72 with 3:09 when Jackson Simmons, who turned 20 Saturday, scored the go-ahead basket. Simmons, who played 15 minutes in a reserve role, hit all three field goal tries and both of his free throws to finish with eight points.
“We hadn’t finished the second half the last couple games very well and today I thought we did make plays,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “We’re going to take it and get out of town as fast as we can.”
James McAdoo added 14 points and eight rebounds, and Reggie Bullock had 12 points and eight rebounds as the Tar Heels dominated the boards with a 41-19 margin, including a decisive 19-6 advantage on the offensive boards.
“That was one of our main objectives,” Bullock said. “Get to the backboards.”
White led the Seminoles (10-6, 2-1) with 15 points — all in the second half. Terry Whisnant added 14 points and Terrance Shannon 12 for Florida State. Whisnant connect on four of his seven attempts from 3-point range.
North Carolina, which also dropped the ACC tournament championship game to the Seminoles, avoided matching its worst start in league play with the win. They have started 0-2 in ACC play only four times.
“Our kids needed this, to say the least,” Williams said. “We’ve been struggling. The pressure has been on us. The stress of being at North Carolina and starting out 0-2 on a young team is incredibly tough to handle. ”
Florida State had won 17 of its last 20 games against ACC opponents, but couldn’t offset the Tar Heels’ huge rebound advantage that was a clear difference in the game.
“I felt like times there was one guy rebounding for our team and three, four guys for their team,” Shannon said. “It’s very frustrating.”
Aside from the rebound deficiency, Florida State shot 48 percent and made half of its 22 tries from 3-point range while committing a manageable 10 turnovers.
White led Florida State with six rebounds and three steals.
Freshman Montay Brandon’s 3 from the corner gave Florida State its first lead at 21-19 and he followed 22 seconds later with a dunk after a steal by White that gave Florida State a 23-19 lead.
Both teams are now off for a week. Florida State visits Virginia next Saturday while the Tar Heels will host Maryland.
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