TAMPA, Fla. (AP)—An Atlantic Coast Conference title is about the only thing missing from Roy Williams’ resume as a head coach, and he concedes it would be real sweet to win one this weekend.
“Everybody always acts like I poo-poo the ACC tournament because there is that thought process: You play people for nine weeks, why do have to play them all again in three days? It’s what it is,” Williams said Friday after his eighth-ranked Tar Heels beat Florida State 73-58 in the quarterfinals.
“Since we’re here, I want to win this sucker,” he said. “There’s no question in my mind I’d like to win it. I would like the Carolina blue people to have more bragging rights than anybody else.”
Wayne Ellington scored 18 points and Ty Lawson had 14, and the Tar Heels’ depth and balanced attack were simply too much for the Seminoles’ one-man show, Al Thornton.
FSU never led, and Thornton—the ACC’s leading scorer and runner-up for conference player of the year—scored 12 points before fouling out with more than 6 minutes to go.
“I really didn’t get in an offensive rhythm, but I had some great looks,” Thornton said. “The ball just wasn’t going in for me.”
North Carolina (26-6), hoping to win its first ACC tournament title since 1998, advanced to Saturday’s semifinals and reversed a trend of upsets in the tourney. The higher seeded team lost every game in the first round.
Williams led the Tar Heels to a national title two years ago after losing in the ACC tournament. Duke, which has dominated the league’s signature event since Carolina last won it, lost on Thursday.
“It would be great because I’ve never won an ACC tournament since I’ve been here, even being on a team that won a national championship,” senior Reyshawn Terry said. “So it’s very important to me and my team and my coaches. It’s very big for us.”
The Tar Heels, the No. 1 seed after tying Virginia for the league’s best regular-season record, pulled away for good during an 18-2 run that built their lead to 48-28 early in the second half. The closest Florida State (20-12) got was 12.
Brandan Wright scored 11 points and Terry had 10 for North Carolina, which had lost two of three entering the tournament to raise questions about whether they had done enough to ensure themselves a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Tyler Hansbrough, whose nose was broken when he was elbowed during the closing seconds of North Carolina’s victory over Duke last Sunday, wore a protective mask and scored six points on 3-for-7 shooting before fouling out for the first time this season.
“I really felt for Tyler today, playing with that mask on. The doctors really wanted him to do it,” Williams said. “I was able to convince him to do it today. I don’t know if I’ll be able to convince him to do it tomorrow. It bothered him like it would bother everybody.”
Thornton didn’t score easily against the Tar Heels, finishing 4-of-13 from the field.
In the opening round on Thursday, he had 25 points and made a free throw with 1.5 seconds left to give Florida State a 67-66 victory over Clemson. He had 29 points and 12 rebounds in a 26-point loss to the Tar Heels in the regular season.
FSU cut an 11-point deficit to four in the closing minutes of the opening half, but a lapse in the final 10 seconds helped the Tar Heels regain control. Ellington’s jumper looked like it would give North Carolina an eight-point lead at the break, however Lawson’s steal under the Seminoles basket led to Deon Thompson’s layup at the buzzer to push the advantage to 36-26.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton made the situation worse, arguing that a foul should have been called on Lawson’s steal. He was whistled for a technical, Ellington made both free throws at the start of the second half, and the Tar Heels scored on three straight possessions to finish a 14-0 run that began late in the first half to put them up 44-26.
Two baskets by Lawson finished the 18-2 surge.
“It just seemed like it happened so fast,” Florida State’s Jerel Allen said. “We knew that North Carolina was a good transition team. When you’re in a game, in the heat of the moment, you don’t really know until a timeout or something. We looked up and they were up more than what we thought they were.”
Allen and Toney Douglas joined Thornton in double figures with 10 each. Douglas finished 2-of-12 from the field.
“Our game plan was to be patient on offense. I really felt like we rushed our shots. We just didn’t get into a rhythm,” Thornton said. “North Carolina, they don’t really need help when you take quick shots and turn the ball over. They’re such a great team in transition, there’s no way you’re going to get back in the game.”