GREENSBORO--- North Carolina took the court at the Greensboro Coliseum for Friday night's quarterfinal nightcap at the ACC Tournament amidst a frenzied atmosphere, as seventh-seeded Maryland had just eliminated second-seeded and prohibitive Tournament favorite Duke moments earlier.
Motivated to ensure they didn't suffer a similar fate, UNC came out in the first half and played solid defense, holding Florida State to 37 percent shooting over the first 20 minutes in building an early eight-point lead.
Then UNC held tough and built upon its lead in the second half, leading by as much as 22 points at one juncture, on its way to an 83-62 victory that advances the Tar Heels to Saturday's semifinal round against the Terrapins.
"We're excited to still be playing---there's no question about that," said head coach Roy Williams shortly after the game. "It was a nice effort for us offensively, particularly in the second half to shoot 61 percent (from the floor)."
The Heels and Seminoles played fairly evenly through a spirited first half, with UNC breaking out to an early 19-14 lead after surrendering the first four points, only to watch Florida State score six straight points to take a 20-19 lead just under the halfway mark of the opening period.
Down the stretch of the first half the teams traded baskets and the lead before UNC finally started taking control, as a pair of back-to-back P.J. Hairston three-pointers gave Carolina a 35-25 lead with 1:26 left before halftime.
Hairston finished the first half with 12 points, including four made three-pointers in five attempts, to help Carolina build its 35-27 halftime advantage.
"Needless to say, P.J. was big early because he was all of our offense," said Williams.
James Michael McAdoo also came out fired up for the Tar Heels, scoring eight points in the game's first eight-plus minutes, and finishing the first half with 10 points.
While McAdoo scored just two points in the second half and fouled out with over five minutes remaining, his strong early play was a catalyst for the Tar Heels.
Hairston and McAdoo's 22 combined first half points nearly out-scored Florida State's 27 first half points all by themselves, as FSU made just 10 out of 27 shot attempts in the early going.
Carolina continued to find the basket in the second half, and although FSU made a couple shots to briefly cut the UNC lead in half at 39-35, the Tar Heels got its working margin up to a dozen points following a three-pointer by Reggie Bullock, which made the score 47-35 with just over 15 minutes remaining on the clock.
Moments later, following a Leonard Hamilton timeout, the Tar Heels got into transition and Bullock scored again while getting fouled. His free throw at the 14:58 mark gave Carolina a 50-35 cushion, and they were in complete control from that point on.
By the time UNC took a 52-35 lead around the 14:00 mark, the Tar Heels had out-scored Florida State 13-0 over a stretch of just over three minutes.
"It seemed we could not keep up with Bullock and Hairston," said Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton, who a year ago defeated UNC to win his school's first and only ACC title. "Our game plan was not to allow them to get out offensively in transition and get those open looks. They have such great range and they get it (the shots) off so quick."
With a comfortable lead over the game's final dozen minutes, the Tar Heels cruised to the win without over-exerting themselves.
Coach Williams worked several backups including Jackson Simmons, J.P. Tokoto, Leslie McDonald, Joel James, and Desmond Hubert into the game in order to give his regulars some rest.
On a night where UNC did little wrong there were a couple minor setbacks, as midway through the second half Hairston banged his left shoulder and briefly got medical attention along the sidelines.
He returned to the game shortly thereafter but subsequently cut his hand attempting to make a play on a ball around the 4:15 mark that FSU's Aaron Thomas ultimately stole.
Hairston split the webbing between the ring and middle fingers on his left (non-shooting) hand, getting a great deal of blood on the floor and forcing a brief timeout for cleanup.
The word we got after the game is that Hairston received eight stitches to sew up the gash, and his status for Saturday and the remainder of the Tournament will likely be made prior to game time.
"We're extremely concerned right now (for Hairston)," said Williams. "His hand is torn up. They're stitching it up in the training room. We have no idea---I have no idea---won't have any idea (if he'll play until Saturday)."
"It doesn't look good," Williams continued. "I saw where it was split. It's in-between the webbing of his fingers."
Despite the injury Hairston led all scorers with 21 points, making seven of 11 shots from the floor including five three-pointers in six attempts.
Hairston was one of four Tar Heels in double figures in scoring, joining Bullock (17 points), McAdoo (12 points), and Dexter Strickland (10 points).
Saturday's semifinal matchup with Maryland is a rematch of last year's ACC Tournament quarterfinal game in Atlanta, the one in which John Henson got injured.
The last time UNC and Maryland met in the ACC Tournament semifinal round was in 1999, when Max Owens scored a career-high 23 points in an 86-79 Tar Heel triumph in the old Charlotte Coliseum.
Carolina would go on to lose to eventual NCAA Finalist Duke in the championship game that particular year.
This year of course, the Tar Heels won't have to worry about the Blue Devils, for a win over Maryland will draw either N.C. State or Miami in Sunday's championship game.
Carolina hasn't played NCSU in the ACC title game since 2007, and they've never played Miami beyond the quarterfinal round. Friday's victory over Boston College marked the first time since joining the ACC that the Hurricanes have reached the semis.