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March 14, 2008

North Carolina stays hot, tops Florida State

CHARLOTTE, N.C. North Carolina's offense worked just fine to start the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. The same couldn't be said for the top-ranked Tar Heels' defense and rebounding.

Tyler Hansbrough scored 22 points Friday to help North Carolina beat Florida State 82-70 in the ACC quarterfinals, completing a tough three-game season sweep of the Seminoles while reaching the semifinals for the fifth time in six seasons.

Wayne Ellington added 19 points for the top-seeded Tar Heels (30-2), who have won nine straight games and 12 of 13. North Carolina will play fourth-seeded Virginia Tech, which beat Miami 63-49 in Friday's quarterfinals, on Saturday afternoon.

It wasn't the best performance for the defending tournament champion. Sure, the Tar Heels shot 53 percent, including 59 percent after halftime, and went 6-for-13 from 3-point range. But the ninth-seeded Seminoles (19-14) kept pace almost the entire way, shooting 49 percent and hitting 10 of 21 shots from behind the arc.

North Carolina and Florida State also finished in a 30-30 tie on the boards, marking only the third time all season the Tar Heels had not outrebounded their opponent. In the two previous meetings, North Carolina outrebounded Florida State by an average of 21.5 per game.

None of that proved too damaging on this day, but it will have to improve if the Tar Heels want to live up to the lofty expectations that have followed them all season.

"I still think we can do some things better," Hansbrough said. "I don't think any of us are really satisfied with this. We're satisfied with the win - we're moving on. But there are some things we didn't do that we want to improve on, especially defensively and offensively."

Hansbrough finished 7-for-15 from the field with six rebounds in 33 minutes. But perhaps more importantly, the ACC player of the year went 8-for-10 at the foul line - all in the second half - after not getting to the line in last week's win at Duke. Hansbrough is shooting 81 percent from the line and averages more than 10 attempts per game.

Ellington went 7-for-13 from the field and knocked down three 3-pointers, and Marcus Ginyard had 10 points. In addition, the Tar Heels got steady production at the point as Ty Lawson finished with eight points and three assists and reserve Quentin Thomas had four points and three assists in 18 minutes.

Lawson, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, started for the first time since his return from a sprained left ankle he suffered in the early minutes of the first meeting against the Seminoles. The injury sidelined him for nearly seven full games, which pushed Thomas into the lineup. Both players seemed to have North Carolina's offense running well Friday.

"Q has so much more confidence now," coach Roy Williams said. "We've been splitting time, the repetitions during practice last week, and I think that helps. Not only is Q more confident, but his teammates understand what he's going to do. So there shouldn't be any peaks and valleys when you make substitutions because we do switch lineups every day in practice."

Jason Rich scored 23 points for the Seminoles, who had won five of six in a late-season surge that gave them at least a slim hope of reaching the NCAA tournament. Despite hanging around the entire way, the Seminoles managed to do little more than trade baskets with the Tar Heels after halftime.

"They just had a little too much firepower for us," Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said. "I thought we had a game plan that our players tried to implement. We had great looks, great shots, but this was one of those games where we needed to make more plays and make more baskets."

North Carolina needed overtime to beat Florida State on the road in February, then led by just six midway through the second half before pulling away late for a 90-77 win last week in Chapel Hill. Friday's matchup followed a similar pattern, with the Seminoles trailing 43-38 with about 14 minutes left before North Carolina finally took control.

The Tar Heels used a 10-3 spurt, which started with a three-point play inside from Hansbrough, to finally get a comfortable cushion that they maintained the rest of the way. The Seminoles twice got within eight points but couldn't pull closer, the last time coming at 64-56 on a 3-pointer from Ralph Mims with 6:42 left.

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