ATLANTA - T.J. Vines swore he never touched Joseph Forte, but officials saw it differently.
Vines and Georgia Tech ended up on the short end of the stick Saturday, falling 70-63 to top-seeded North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals at the Georgia Dome.
The fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets (17-12) had shaved a 13-point, second-half deficit and threatened to beat the Tar Heels (25-5) in the final minute. With the Georgia Techtrailing 64-60, Vines stole a pass from Brian Morrison and dished to Shaun Fein, who drilled a 3-pointer to make it 64-63 with 46 seconds left.
After a North Carolina timeout, the Heels inbounded the ball. With Forte attempting to drive through the lane for a layup, he slipped and fell, the ball sailing out of bounds.
Game officials whistled Vines for a foul on the play. Television replays showed Vines never made contact. Forte sank both free throws to make it 66-63.
"I thought it was good defense but that's how it goes sometimes," Vines said. "I thought he tripped over his own foot, but the officials saw it differently. I didn't get a chance to see the replay on the Jumbotron, but from the reaction of the fans and my teammates, I figured the ball went off his foot.
"But Forte stepped up and made the free throws. Good players get those kinds of calls."
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt stormed off the court after the game.
Forte led North Carolina with 27 points and shot 10-of-25 from the floor, despite playing with four fouls during the final 9:38.
Despite the call, Georgia Tech still had a chance. With 24 seconds left, miscommunication between Tony Akins and Fein resulted in Akins' pass being thrown out of bounds, killing the Jackets' chances for the upset.
"I thought (Fein) was cutting toward me," Akins said. "I threw the ball to him, and he backdoored. It was just miscommunication on our part."
Hewitt said he wasn't looking for a 3-point basket to tie on the play. He was looking for a good shot because plenty of time was still left.
The loss disappointed Georgia Tech players, especially considering the Jackets shot poorly from the floor in the first half (9-of-33) and failed to hit a basket during the final 8:17. The drought continued until Akins buried a 3-pointer with 17:38 left in the second half, when the Heels had a 35-25 lead.
Georgia Tech shot just 4-of-8 from the free-throw line in the second half, including a costly 2-of-4 during the final 1:31.
"They (free throws) have deserted us the last couple of games, and we missed a lot on the front end," Hewitt said. "Obviously, going to the foul line 13 times is not acceptable for us. We shoot 50 free throws a day, and as long as we're doing the right thing, I can't get caught up in end results."
North Carolina's Brendan Haywood blanketed Georgia Tech center Alvin Jones, who finished just 3-of-16 from the floor and scored seven points. Jones threw the ball away four times.
"Brendan did a heck of a job on Alvin Jones," North Carolina coach Brad Doherty said. "I think that was really the key to keeping us in the game."
While the Tar Heels play Duke in the finals at 1 p.m. today, Georgia Tech will spend the afternoon wondering whether its season was good enough to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Bids are announced on the Tournament Selection Show at 6:30 tonight.
"Those are the kind of things you can't dwell on," Fein said. "Nobody in this locker room has ever been to the NCAA tournament. That was one of our goals, and I think we've worked very hard to get there. There's going to be a lot of disappointed people if we don't get in."
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.