Heels try to stop ACC road skid

Dec. 22, 2002; that's when North Carolina last won an Atlantic Coast Conference game away from the Smith Center. Tonight the Tar Heels return to Tallahassee – the location of their last league road triumph – to take on slumping Florida State. Tipoff is 7 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.<br> <center> (<a target=new href="">LIVE STATS</a>)</center>

"The experience factor is the most important thing [on the road]," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "That's what's been hurting [UNC] the last couple of years. We didn't perform like I wanted them to at the end of the Maryland game, but there will be a lot of teams that will go into Maryland and lose. You do prepare a little differently, because you want your players to just focus on the game itself, and not be concerned about the arena and the people."

After a sizzling 10-0 start and early habitation in the Top 25, the now-unranked Seminoles (12-5, 1-3) have fallen on hard times – losers of five of their last seven games, including four-straight.

"As of late we've been discouraged," second-year FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "But on the positive side, we've been ahead in all of those games until the last couple of minutes of the game. Our kids are playing hard and their attitudes are good, we just have to be more consistent.

"Carolina is going to test us. Hopefully it will raise our level of consciousness."

While the match-up with FSU may not quite fit the description, the Tar Heels (11-3, 1-2 ACC) have yet to pass a significant test on the road. Carolina has been up and down this year, capable of beating Top 10 teams like Georgia Tech and Connecticut, but unable to finish down the stretch at Kentucky and Maryland.

"Last week was a mixed bag for us," Williams said. "Gary's team outplayed us. They did the things they needed to do at crunch time and we lost a tough one at Maryland. Saturday, we had a great win. We were real good in the first half and pretty ugly in the second half, but we made a couple of defensive stops and a couple of big shots at the end to beat UConn."

UNC and FSU have two common opponents so far this season. The Seminoles have wins over the Terps, 79-75; and Miami, 67-58. Since joining the ACC in 1992, Florida State has defeated 10 top-10 ranked teams, with nine coming in conference and one over then-No. 5 Arizona in 1997.

Carolina leads the all-time series with FSU, 30-7, which includes a 20-6 advantage as conference adversaries. UNC has won 11 of the last 13.

This year, the Tar Heels will enter Leon County Civic Center as the nation's top scoring team, averaging 88.4 points per game. They are also third in the nation with 20.0 assists per game, as is Raymond Felton, who is dishing out 8.1 apg.

"Raymond is fitting very well ‘into the mold of a North Carolina point guard from many, many years past [reporter's term],' because Raymond is interested in how his team is doing," Williams said. "He's a great distributor of the basketball, his assist-to-error ratio is better than 2-to-1. He does a good job pressuring the ball on the defensive side of the floor, and is able to score some as well. But his own individual scoring is not the most important to him; it's his team and that's the best thing you can say about a point guard.

"He's got a great sense of humility. He understands where he came from and he doesn't slack off. He understands how hard you have to work and how often you have to do it. That background from a small town sometimes makes guys work harder, because they don't see all the glitz all the time."

Felton and his backcourt mates will try to slow down the Seminoles' perimeter shooters, which are hitting threes at an ACC-best 39.4 percent clip.

Thursday marks the return to Florida State for UNC assistant Steve Robinson, who coached the Seminoles from 1997-2002.

"His integrity and his approach" are just a couple of Robinson's qualities that have impressed Williams. "He's the kind of role model that every head coach would like to have on his staff – the kids can emulate everything he does from his personal to his professional life," Williams said. "He's a very good basketball person that understands what's good and what's bad on and off the court."

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