Seminoles drop close one at home to UNC
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — North Carolina had dug itself a hole. An 0-2 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference for just the fourth time in program history.
An 0-3 start? It’s almost unheard of in Chapel Hill. The last time it happened was the 1996-97 season, when many of the current Tar Heels were preschoolers.
It’s a season of transition, no doubt, for North Carolina, which lost four NBA first-round draft picks in 2012.
But a young North Carolina went on the road and made sure that it got back on track Saturday afternoon with a 77-72 win over Florida State. If ever an early January game could be considered a must win, this was it.
“Our kids needed this, to say the least,” coach Roy Williams said. “We’ve been struggling. The pressure has been on us. The stress of being at North Carolina and starting out 0-2 on a young team is incredibly tough to handle.”
UNC (11-5, 1-2 ACC) played well in nearly every aspect. Sophomore guard P.J. Hairston scored a career-high 23 points, knocking down 9 of 14 shots and four 3-pointers. Sophomore forward James McAdoo added 14 points, junior guard Reggie Bullock had 12 points and they each had eight rebounds.
And rebounding was by far the biggest disparity in the game. The Tar Heels crushed Florida State on the glass, out-rebounding the Seminoles 41-19. That led to 19 second-chance points, and it was too much for Florida State to handle.
“We need to do a better job team rebounding,” Florida State forward Terrance Shannon said. “I felt like times there was one guy rebounding for our team and three, four guys for their team. We just have to be more conscious of it.”
Even though they were losing badly on the glass, Florida State had its chances to win. The Seminoles led 72-69 with 4:16 left after a pair of free throws by Okaro White, who scored all 15 of his points in the second half.
But they were the final points that Florida State would score, as the Seminoles turned the ball over three times and also missed a layup down the stretch.
Florida State used the 3-pointer to beat UNC twice last season, including a 33-point rout in Tallahassee, in which senior Deividas Dulkys made eight of FSU’s 12 shots from beyond the arc.
This is a far different UNC team from a year ago, without stars that powered the 2011-12 team like John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall (who were four of the first 17 picks in the NBA draft).
But many of the UNC players hadn’t forgotten that 33-point loss from last season.
“I was just saying ‘33’ because that’s how much they beat us by last year,” said Hairston, who was 0 for 8 from the field in that game last year. “We wanted to come in and turn it around and not let them get that comfort zone.”
Florida State couldn’t replicate that magic on Saturday. The Seminoles trailed 75-72 with 19 seconds to go, and set up a play for clutch 3-point shooter Michael Snaer (who beat Duke and Virginia Tech last season with buzzer-beating 3s).
The inbounds pass was initially tipped, and the play was disrupted. Snaer’s 28-footer missed, UNC won the rebound and Marcus Paige made two free-throw attempts to ice the win.
“I just made a bad decision at the end,” Snaer said.
UNC had struggled in the second halves of its first two ACC games. The Tar Heels were outscored 37-27 in a loss at Virginia and then 38-27 in a home loss to Miami.
But on Saturday, UNC scored 44 second-half points, trading basket for basket with Florida State until the final four minutes. And then the Tar Heels came up with the defensive stops to seal the win.
“Today was the first time that I really thought we had a big-time sense of urgency (in the second half),” Williams said. “We’re going to take it and get out of town as fast as we can.”