Roy Williams has emphasized the need for his team to play with a sense of urgency so many times that it’s hard to believe anyone could possibly forget, let alone his players. Yet that’s what happened off the tip at the Tucker Center.
“That was about as bizarre a game as I’ve ever been involved with early because there was nothing that we did that was very good,” Williams told reporters following his team’s 7th-consecutive win.
While Florida State (15-11, 6-8 ACC) made a point to attack the rim early, UNC (18-7, 8-4 ACC) stumbled offensively with poor ball movement, less than crisp passes and a willingness to settle for jumpers. FSU’s aggressive defensive pressure – Leonard Hamilton’s S.O.P. – forced the Tar Heels into playing at an ineffective pace with quick shots.
The result was evident on the scoreboard as the Seminoles built a 21-6 lead. The Tar Heels missed 11 of their first 13 field goal attempts with their two makes coming underneath the basket.
“We were all getting discouraged because nothing was going right for us,” Meeks said.
Things got so bad for UNC that Williams called a 30-second timeout with 13:38 to play and his team trailing 17-3.
“The first timeout I called I didn’t do any coaching, I just screamed at them,” Williams said. “I thought that’s what they needed. But after that, I said, ‘we can get back in there, we can back in there, we can get back in there.’”
As usual, the 11th-year UNC head coach was right.
The Tar Heels didn’t score their eighth point of the game until the 9:49 mark of the first half, but due to a more patient approach that allowed the Seminoles more time to make mistakes defensively, the points started to add up in a hurry.
Instead of caving to FSU’s defensive pressure, UNC used it against them.
“Since they’re so extended with their defense, there’s a lot of driving lanes,” sophomore guard Marcus Paige said. “And then their big guy would always help up the lane, so I just dumped it off to either Brice or Kennedy and they were able to finish a lot.”
Even with James Michael McAdoo mired in foul trouble, the Tar Heels capitalized on the interior as Brice Johnson and Meeks combined for 23 first-half points on 10-of-12 shooting. Most of those points came off interior passes off penetration.
Paige (20 points, 7 assists) expected FSU to stop helping as much with their big guys, but that adjustment never took place, so the Tar Heels continued penetrating and finding their post players underneath.
Meeks finished with a career-high 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting while Johnson added 14 on 6-of-8 shooting. Add in some timely shooting by Paige – Monday marked the 10th time this season that the sophomore has scored four points or less in the first half only to post double-digit numbers after halftime – and the Seminoles couldn’t slow UNC’s rally.
UNC shot 60.8 percent from the floor (31-of-51) after the 2-of-13 start.
Bouncing back in Tallahassee is not an easy task. Two years ago, the 3rd-ranked Tar Heels fell behind 9-2 – FSU held the exact same lead on Monday – before getting run out of North Florida with a 33-point loss.
The Tar Heels’ 15-point deficit overcome to win is the largest of the season. UNC trailed by nine and came back to win against Richmond, Louisville and Notre Dame.
UNC’s ability to adjust to a variety of obstacles in its path – McAdoo being held scoreless in 13 minutes serving as a primary example – and elevate its play to secure an important road win in conference play lends further evidence to its continued growth as March approaches.