UNC-FSU: The Good & Bad

UNC-FSU: The Good & Bad

With their backs against the wall, the North Carolina Tar Heels ended a five-game losing streak by managing to knock off Florida State, 61-60, before a sellout crowd of 21,750 Saturday at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill.

Here is a look at the good and the bad of UNC's 12th win in 22 games and third win in nine Atlantic Coast Conference games.

GOOD

Jawad Williams – In his first 45 games as a Tar Heel Williams scored 20-plus points just twice. He has done so in three of his last four games, and in the game he didn't – at Duke – he had 19. The game before the stretch he had just three points in a loss at N.C. State, and as Williams said, he has done what he can to lead this team, even if it means scoring as much as he can if it's through the normal offense.

Williams is this team's leader in every way. He's mature beyond his years and understands what the Heels are up against. Nobody likes losing less than he does, and although he puts up a good front to them media, his passions are clearly understood by this scribe.

He had 20 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked a pair of shots in the win and played a terrific floor game. His communication on defense won't ever show up in a stat sheet, but it can't ever be discounted as a major reason why this team competes.

David Noel – In many respects, Noel, a walk-on freshman, has given a legion of UNC fans reason for optimism. His play over the last three games has surprised everyone, and when Sean May comes back and Rashad McCants gets his back and head in order (and it will happen, folks), the Heels will be a much deeper and more lethal unit. Noel had 11 points, four rebounds and four blocked shots in the win over FSU, but it was not just his steal and free throw that gave the Heels the win, but his offensive rebound of Manuel's missed free throw that helped send Williams to the line to tie the game with 29.9 seconds left.

This young man plays with tremendous heart and has the perfect attitude. He is all about the team, and with his obvious athletic skills, has become a force for the Heels.

Jackie Manuel – Manuel had perhaps his best overall game as a Heel. He was splendid on defense, keeping Tim Pickett in check, and was extremely aggressive on offense, while committing just one turnover to go with four nifty assists. He finished with 12 points, but got to the free throw line 12 times (he made seven), and helped get the Seminoles in foul trouble, as they finished with four players with four fouls and one having fouled out. He also had four blocked shots, one late in the game that will be on UNC's highlight reel for a while.

Raymond Felton – The warrior only scored eight points but he had six assists and just one turnover, and played a terrific floor game. He continues to be in more and more control over the offense and the team as a whole. His leadership skills have developed over the past five weeks and were rather evident on Saturday. His defense is also underrated.

Intensity – The Heels weren't as intense as they were against Wake and Duke, but considering how difficult it is to match that level of passion, they were still at a nice level. The Heels channeled their energy well and came up big when they had to. They did have a drought offensively in the first half and had some bad short stretches defensively, but overall, had the right frame of mind to notch the victory.

Defense – The Heels were excellent on defense. FSU did shoot 43.6 percent, but at least six baskets came on fast breaks. The Seminoles didn't get many great looks other than a few stretches and really struggled with UNC's man-to-man defense. The Heels blocked six shots and altered at least four more. They did this with their athleticism, not their size, and other than the times when FSU broke them down, made life difficult for Leonard Hamilton's team. Pickett, their leading scorer at 19 ppg entering the game, had just one field goal out of the offense, as his other three baskets were fast-break layups after steals.

Matt Doherty – After two incredibly difficult losses Doherty still managed to get his team up enough to notch the victory, which could be huge down the stretch. There have been a few times this year when Doherty could have lost the team but he hasn't. Stories may appear about players being unhappy, but the ultimate determination of their mental state is in their effort, and consequently their performances. Melvin Scott and Will Johnson, just to name a few of the new "unhappy" list, played exceptionally hard and made quality hard-nosed smart plays to help the Heels. It's clear that most of the players have bought into Doherty's approach and are still giving of themselves.

Rebounding – The Heels were actually not outrebounded, as both teams finished with 32 apiece. UNC had 11 offensive boards to FSU's nine.

Free throws – The Heels not only shot more free throws than the Seminoles, but did so at a 24-5 clip. A problem all year for UNC, Carolina got to the line because increased aggressiveness offensively and converted open looks inside to mates that led to a shooting foul.

A win – With the win UNC is now 12-10 overall and 3-6 in the ACC. The Heels can beat Virginia this week, which would put them at 13-10 and 4-6. If they manage to win a tough game at Clemson over the weekend they will be 14-10 and 5-6. Add N.C. A&T to the win column and UNC is 15-10 and 5-6 in the ACC and right back in the thick of the NCAA hunt. Consider that home games with N.C. State, Georgia Tech and Duke remain (all winnable) and road trips to Maryland and Wake (probable losses) are ahead, it's conceivable that Carolina could finish around 8-8 or 7-9 in the ACC and 18-12 or 17-13 heading to the ACC tournament. Considering the Heels would finish pretty strong, the entire May situation, the overall strength of schedule, and having beaten Stanford and Kansas, as well as St. John's (on the road the day after May got hurt) and over UConn, and they should get into the Big Dance. Georgia got in two years ago at 16-14 - the Heels certainly would at 17-14.

Crowd – The fans were awesome. The place was full and they made a lot of noise considering a five-game losing streak and the league's most unattractive club being in town. Carolina fans might not be so spoiled anymore, and those that showed up did their part to be a sixth man.

BAD

Turnovers/points – The Heels actually committed two fewer turnovers (14 to 16) than did the Seminoles, but FSU made the most of theirs. Three of Pickett's baskets were fast-break layups after steals, and overall, FSU had 21 points off Carolina's giveaways.

Interior defense – While UNC was strong defensively, the Heels did allow FSU to get too many open looks around the basket, and had no answers for Anthony Richardson, who had 17 points and quite frankly could and should have had more if FSU was more adept at getting him the ball in positive situations.

Melvin Scott's touch – Scott played a very fine floor game but once again struggled from the field. Scott tied up two balls, one that went UNC's way and the other he called a timeout with around four minutes left before it could be officially tied up. The talk of his unhappiness may be true, but it certainly didn't show in his performance and effort. However, he is still just six for his last 37 from the field in the last eight games and is only three of 24 from 3-point range. He hasn't made more than one basket in a game since the Davidson tilt on Jan. 8. As the team's "instant offense" off the bench, he is hardly filling that role. But as Doherty said Saturday, if he plays that hard his shooting won't matter much.

Free throws percentage – The Heels finally shot more freebies than an opponent but still only hit 66.7% (16-24) of them. Had Williams and Manuel hit theirs toward the end Noel's heroics wouldn't have been necessary.

UP NEXT

The Heels host Virginia on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in what is a crucial game. UVa has beaten Maryland and N.C. State in its last two games. It will be televised nationally on ESPN.


Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He also covers the ACC for the Wilmington Star-News/Morning Star and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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