Toughness on Display

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – With the injuries piling up, a short-handed North Carolina team dug deep to deliver a gritty 78-74 win over Florida State on Saturday.

Freshman wing Theo Pinson joined the ever-growing collection of Tar Heels decked out in suits on the bench after breaking the fifth metatarsal in his left foot during Wednesday’s game at Wake Forest. Joel Berry (groin), Stilman White (foot), Luke Davis (foot) and walk-on Sasha Seymore (ACL) were also sidelined due to injury.

The quality of threads were noteworthy from the crowd, but didn’t serve as a distraction for the remaining available Tar Heels.

“I don’t really notice it until after the game, and then I see a whole bunch of people limp into the locker room,” freshman wing Justin Jackson said. “It’s unfortunate, obviously, Theo going out after the last game. That really stinks, but I think we have the type of players that can come together and keep this thing going.”

Various other Tar Heels had to play through numerous physical ailments.

Nate Britt played despite receiving 15 stitches in his lip following a collision against Wake Forest. The sophomore guard was held out of practice on Thursday and Friday.

Britt not only played, but also was able to provide some much needed production early on. Even though he only finished the game with four points and three assists in 14 minutes, Britt’s time on the floor allowed junior guard Marcus Paige to get what little rest he could.

Paige has had to deal with injuries of his own. The junior has been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. He also twisted his right ankle two weeks ago against Louisville and bruised his hip on a fall against Virginia Tech last Sunday.

With the litany of injury issues, quality minutes were at a premium.

“It’s basketball,” junior forward J.P. Tokoto said. “You come to this University to play… I feel like that’s it is every college player’s dream to come to a college like this and kind of fall into some minutes.”

Entering Saturday, Paige (31.2) was the only Tar Heel averaging over 30 minutes per game. Tokoto was next in line at 27.1 minutes per contest.

“This is going to test how tough we are as a team, mentally and physically,’ Tokoto said. “We have injuries, everybody knows that. But it’s going to come down to how tough we play.”
Against Florida State, all of the starters answered the challenge. Paige led the team with 35 minutes, while Tokoto and Jackson both logged 34 minutes due to the lack of bodies on the perimeter. Kennedy Meeks played 30 minutes inside after Joel James suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for the second half.

Junior forward Brice Johnson added his name to the injury list after getting knocked to the floor after battling for a rebound, further aggravating a lower back injury. Johnson stretched consistently and elected to stand rather than sit at the end of the bench .

The Orangeburg, S.C. native record his third double-double in his last five games (18 points, 14 rebounds).

“[My back] was starting to hurt before the game, but after I fell it made it a little bit worse,” Johnson said. “I was trying to be cautious with it and try to play aggressive at the same time.”

After the game, the buzzword of the game was toughness. All season long, UNC head coach Roy Williams has preached about the absence of that toughness, not just on an individual basis, but as a team. After today’s effort, it’s possible that this group is really starting to get the message.

“We dictate our future,” Tokoto said. “We control all of that. If we want to play hard and do things right, then things are going to end up going our way.”

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