"I'm very proud to sit before you after a heck of a win on the road in the ACC," UNC head coach Matt Doherty said. "This conference, as you have quickly realized, is the best conference in the country. Clemson beat Cincinnati today. The success this league has had and Florida State has had makes this a great win for us."
The first-half scoring opportunities unfolded like a trip to the dentist for the Tar Heels--it was like pulling teeth. An 11-40 shooting performance was largely due to aggressive defense by the Seminoles, who recorded seven blocks in the opening stanza.
"We are used to just getting good position and going straight up," Sean May, who finished with seven points (3-12 FG) and 10 rebounds, said. "One time in the first half Ray[mond Felton] drove, I thought I had [Trevor] Harvey beat, but he came from behind [and blocked my shot]. They are long and can jump. They are good at blocking shots, and they are going to do a lot of that this year."
Even though the shots weren't going down, of the 29 misses, 11 offensive rebounds helped keep Carolina in the game, giving them 12 more field goal attempts than their counterparts and a 30-30 score at the half.
In the second half, the Tar Heels 'offense started clicking, while their defense kept the Seminoles in check. A 24-8 run pushed a halftime tie to a 54-38 advantage. In one critical stretch after Felton went out of the game due to injury, Melvin Scott took the reins and ran the offense, dishing out a key assist and hitting a 3-pointer.
"I was just doing what I learned from last year--running the point and doing what the team needs me to do," Scott said. I'm an excellent scorer, but I had to sacrifice and run the team, so that's what I did. I saw he went down, so I held things down until he could come back in. When he came back in, I switched to the two-guard. It's just the versatility that I have. Not to toot my own horn, but, 'Honk, honk.'" (Winking)
From there, Carolina continued to attack the basket for lay-ups, fouls or kick-outs to open jump shooters due to a collapsing defense.
"We basically just took it to them," Felton said. "We got the ball and drove it to the basket to get fouled. Sometimes we got fouled and a basket, and sometimes we got easy lay-ups. We were more aggressive with the ball."
While the freshmen "Big Three" all shot under 50 percent (9-39 FG) for the game, the bench helped to offset those scoring woes with a season-high 21 points, led by a career-high eight points from Byron Sanders, including six straight points in the first half.
"I just shot the ball, because I was open," the Gulfport, Mississippi native said. "I guess they thought I couldn't shoot... Sean [May] just told me to play hard and keep doing what I was doing."
May said, "When Byron came off the floor [in the second half], I stopped him at half-court and said, 'I've been waiting all year just for this, for you to come out and not play scared and just play.' He hit some jump shots at the top of the key. He's improved so much: his footwork and sense of the game, his hands, being in the right spot. It's amazing how much he and Damion [Grant] have improved."
While his shooting was off (2-9), freshman point guard Raymond Felton still managed to control things on the offensive end with a career-high 11 assists.
"That's my role," Felton explained. "I'm not looking to come out and score 30 points. I just want to come out and distribute the ball, so we can win the game. I want to get great shots for my teammates first. If I have to score after that, that's what I'll do."
Another player off the bench, David Noel, contributed five points and four assists in only nine minutes of action in what is becoming a more comfortable role for him.
"We (the reserves) just have to go out when it is our turn and exert ourselves and give it everything we've got," Noel said. "Tonight I was able to knock down a big shot, and I was happy about it. It lifted the team and we made a little run…"
"The last couple of games I was kind of nervous. Unlike the other freshmen--they got over it quicker--it took me a little while to get over it, and tonight I did."
Amidst all the errant shots, sophomore Jawad Williams finished the night as the only Tar Heel to shoot over 50 percent (7-12 FG) from the field and score in double figures. As part of his 16-point, five-rebound performance, he converted several shots in close after contact that wouldn't have made at this time last year.
"It's due to my strength," Williams explained. "I've been hitting the weights, and that's a credit to Coach McKinney. He's done a good job with us, and he is making me a better player."
Rashad McCants finished the night with 12 points and seven rebounds in a sub-par shooting performance (4-16 FG), but managed to rally the team at halftime by leading the team chant before returning to the court.
Jackie Manuel managed "only" eight points, but forced FSU's Tim Pickett into a 6-20 shooting performance as part of his continued excellence on the defensive end of the court.
The Tar Heels finished the night shooting 28-77 from the field, with a 46-39 rebound advantage.
Following the game, each player and coach left for home and will convene in New York for the next game against Iona in Madison Square Garden on Friday at 6:30 p.m.