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UNC coach Roy Williams likened it more to a comedy – of errors.
“It was an interesting game,” he said. “It wasn’t very pretty, but it’s still a ‘W’ at the end. When the second half started, they were the aggressor; and we were too careless and too casual.”
When FSU’s Andrew Wilson hit his seventh three-pointer of the game, the Seminoles trailed by just one with 4:04 left to play – that close from reviving their waning NCAA Tournament hopes while putting the Tar Heels’ in serious doubt.
But as he has done nearly all year, Rashad McCants came up with a huge sequence when his team needed it the most. On UNC’s next possession, he hit a hotly contested three and then stole the ball right back from fellow All- ACC candidate Tim Pickett, as the sixteenth-ranked Tar Heels held on to top Florida State, 78-71, Saturday at the Smith Center.
“Coach always tells us, ‘Guard somebody like you don’t like to be guarded,’” McCants said of the steal. “I just wanted to get in his face and make him feel uncomfortable.”
So what was Williams’ philosophy for keeping the lead the rest of the way?
“Make your stupid free throws,” he said.
His players listened, and after struggling miserably at the charity stripe for most of the game, the Tar Heels converted their last 8-of-10 attempts to preserve the victory.
McCants, the ACC’s scoring leader, finished with a team-high 21 points and Raymond Felton scored 17 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Carolina evened its conference record and will move into a tie for fourth in the ACC with the loser of Sunday's Wake Forest-Ga. Tech game.
“It’s really not about me,” McCants said. “If I play well and we lose, then I’m playing for no reason.”
UNC out-rebounded FSU, 48-28; its second time this season with a final rebounding edge of plus-20.
The Tar Heels (16-7, 6-6 ACC) shot 50-percent and took a 43-27 halftime lead. But back-to-back threes from Wilson and Pickett to start the second half, followed by a steal and layup by Pickett, led the Seminoles on a quick 8-0 run.
Roy Williams’ blood was boiling and it would get even hotter. After one point, Williams, who would also be whistled for a technical, said he became dizzy and nearly fainted.
“I reminded them what happened at Tallahassee, but when the second half started, [the Seminoles] were the aggressors,” Williams said.
“At that point I was about as frustrated as I had been all year. I don’t think you should get a technical for getting mad at your players.”
Pickett (25 points), the league’s leading three-point shooter, along with Wilson (24 points) combined on 12-of-23 three-point shooting. As a team, FSU took twice as many shots from beyond the arc as it did from inside it.
“[Wilson] was making open shots; and we can’t let that happen,” Williams said. “Pickett is a load; he’s going to make a lot of money at the next level.”
Sean May and Jawad Williams were effective inside both rebounding and drawing fouls and they scored 10 and 13 points respectively. However when they got to the line, they were a forgettable 6-of-17.
“They found a way to get to the foul line and the discrepancy on the boards tells you just how active they were,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We made a game out of it. We found a way to get close, but as poorly as we played I’m not sure if we had won the game, if it would have been the right thing, as well as they played.”
Life doesn’t get any easier for FSU, which travels to Wake Forest on Wednesday, before wrapping up the regular season versus Duke and at Georgia Tech.
“For the first time, it’s obvious to me that we have to grow and understand the mental approach you have to have to go on the road in this league,” Hamilton said.
Meanwhile, Carolina can continue to improve its NCAA Tournament seeding potential with a win at Virginia on Tuesday.
“Everyone’s really figuring out their roles and what Coach wants from them,” May said. “Today, Rashad shot the ball well, Raymond did a good job on the boards and scoring, Jawad and I were in double figures and Melvin [Scott] knocked down some big shots. So everyone is starting to find their roles and as long as we keep doing that, we’ll be all right.”