updated 10:35 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Another clutch shot for Harrison Barnes.
Another down-to-the-wire victory for North Carolina at the Tucker Center.
Barnes – an ACC Rookie of the Year favorite who had previously made four go-ahead and/or game-winning shots this season – added a fifth to his tally Wednesday night, swishing a 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 3.1 seconds left to beat Florida State 72-70.
The 13th-ranked Tar Heels (23-6, 13-2 ACC) now have won six games in a row; and if they stretch their streak to seven against Duke on Saturday, they will secure the ACC regular season title and earn the top seed in next week’s conference tournament.
Having Barnes – who finished 6-for-10 with 18 points – should help that cause.
“He’s going to miss some one day; I know that. But I’m not surprised [that he keeps hitting winners],’’ UNC coach Roy Williams said after Barnes helped his team shoot 48.3 percent – its best tally since it beat FSU at home last month. “Great players who have that kind of focus, who have that kind of ability, can make those kinds of plays.”
With about four minutes left, it didn’t look like Barnes would have to repeat his heroics from previous wins over Virginia Tech on Jan. 13 (when he scored eight of UNC’s final 14 points), Clemson on Jan. 18 (go-ahead 3-pointer with less than 5 minutes to go), at Miami on Jan. 26 (game-winning 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left) and at Clemson on Feb. 12 (go-ahead dunk with 3:02 left).
The Tar Heels led 67-60 with 3:56 remaining, on point guard Kendall Marshall’s 3-pointer. But they systematically squandered their advantage, turning the ball over three times and forcing a couple of questionable shots, which allowed the Seminoles to take a 70-69 lead, on two Derwin Kitchen free throws, with 18 seconds left.
“People make mistakes,’’ said sophomore Dexter Strickland, who accounted for two free throws, but also a missed layup and turnover during that stretch. “But we kept our focus, and we got Harrison the ball.”
Indeed, after a timeout, the plan was to have the ball in Barnes’ hands from the get-go. Usually, UNC’s coaches put their point guard in that position, as the decision-maker at the top of the arc. But in practice recently, they changed up the play to put Barnes in that role – with the idea that he would take the ball to the basket.
“And what I did wrong is, Kendall hadn’t played that spot on the wing enough, and he got too close, and so Harrison didn’t have any driving lane,’’ Williams said. “And he just pulled up and shot it over their player [Michael Snaer], and it went in the basket.”
Barnes, ever-confident, said he knew the shot was good when it left his hand. “It’s very exciting to have the last-second shot, and have the game in your hands,’’ he said. “You’re either the hero or the goat; you make it or you miss. Tonight, I made it.”
This marks the second straight game at FSU that UNC has needed a game-winner to top the Seminoles – and it continues a trend of tight match-ups here for the Tar Heels in the Williams era. In 2004, Carolina blew a 24-point lead and lost in overtime, 90-81. In 2006, North Carolina needed six 3-pointers by Wes Miller to survive 81-80. In 2008, it took overtime for the Tar Heels to win 84-73 after point guard Ty Lawson sprained his ankle. In 2009, needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Lawson to secure a comeback, and victory.
And then, there was Wednesday.
UNC forward John Henson led UNC with 19 points, tying his career high. Sophomore Leslie McDonald added 10 points off the bench.
Kitchen led FSU – which was playing its fourth straight game without star forward Chris Singleton (foot fracture) – with 13 points. It marked the Seminoles’ (20-9, 10-5) first ACC loss at home this season.
“You never know what’s going to happen,’’ Williams said. “I’m so silly, I told them at the timeout that we were going to make the shot. We had already made one in Florida, at Miami, a last-second shot, and said we were going to do it again.”
Thanks to Barnes, they did.
Photo: UNC's Harrison Barnes (40) puts up the game-winning 3-point shot with 3.1 seconds to play over Florida State's Michael Snaer (21). ROBERT WILLETT - firstname.lastname@example.org