Noel, Heels steal win from FSU

CHAPEL HILL – David Noel just doesn't know when to stop. <br><br> North Carolina's "other" freshman continued his emergence as one of the Tar Heels' most important players in his third consecutive start.

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First he scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Wake Forest last Sunday. On Wednesday, he tallied 19 points and seven rebounds at Duke. And today, his steal and free throw with 5.6 seconds remaining gave Carolina a 61-60 victory over Florida State before a relieved Smith Center crowd of 21,750.

"We've been fighting the last month and a half, and we haven't given up," UNC coach Matt Doherty said. "I think that shows the character of the kids in that locker room

"They had to grind it out, and they did. They could've their heads dropped several times, but they didn't, and I'm really proud of them."

The Tar Heels had led FSU for most of the contest before falling behind 60-59 on a 3-pointer by Benson Callier with 49 seconds left to play. Yet UNC was unable to retake the lead on its next possession, as Jackie Manuel missed a pair of free throws. But Noel rebounded Manuel's second miss and passed to Jawad Williams who was fouled.

Williams (20 points, six rebounds, two blocks) hit one of two from the charity stripe to knot the game at 60, and FSU called timeout with 20.8 seconds remaining.

The Seminoles (11-9, 2-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) eventually got the ball to Anthony Richardson - their go-to man on the day - who dribbled the ball just inside the top of the key when Noel stripped it away and raced down the court and went up for a layup, but was fouled by Richardson.

The Durham freshman then calmly sank the first free throw. FSU rebounded the missed second shot but Nate Johnson's long 3-pointer was off the mark, and UNC (12-10, 3-6) finally ended its five-game losing streak.

"My thoughts were, ‘I gotta make it, I gotta make it,'" Noel said he was thinking at the free throw line. "That's all I was saying after my teammates were huddled around me, I was just like, ‘Calm down, I gotta make it.'"

Williams said it was a matter of time before Noel displayed his abilities.

"David's becoming a great player," Williams said about Noel, who finished with 11 points, four rebounds and four steals. "We all knew he could play it was just a matter of time before he got those minutes on the court and could shot what he could do."

Yet, had UNC not limited Tim Pickett - FSU's leading scorer at 18 points per game - to just eight points and only one field goal out of its offense (the other three were layups following steals), Noel's efforts may have been wasted.

"We basically came in and wanted to deny every pass and pressure the ball," said Manuel, who finished with 12 points, four assists, one steal and four blocks – a career high. "By pressuring the ball it would be tough for him (Pickett) to get good shots."

And that defense combined with Noel's heroics helped snap that dreaded losing streak.

"It feels great to get a win," Noel said. "It makes it better because we have worked so hard."

Richardson led FSU with 17 points while Callier added 13 and Michael Joiner chipped in 12.

Raymond Felton's 12-game string of scoring in double figures came to an end, as he finished with just eight points but did add six assists against only one turnover.

The Tar Heels opened the game on fire from beyond the arc, building a quick 9-0 on 3-pointers, and led 23-9 with 10:03 left before intermission after all six of their field goals were 3-balls.

Then UNC went into one of its patented droughts, scoring just eight points the rest of the way, including just two field goals.

FSU, on the other hand, was beginning to get quality looks around the basket and went on a 16-3 run but never quite caught the Heels in the first half, closing to 26-25 with 4:37 left before halftime, but UNC led 31-29 at the half.

But this was a day for No. 34.

Noel is the only of UNC's six freshmen not on scholarship this season – he will be next year – and was considered an afterthought by many prior to the season. And even as recently as a week ago his minutes and performances were inconsistent. But three games after being given a vote of confidence by Doherty, the 6-foot-6 athlete has become a force.

"My confidence was fluctuating during the season and now it's sky high," Noel said. "All I have to do is just continue to go out every game and try to play my hardest and the sky's the limit."

Senior forward Will Johnson agrees.

"He's really doing amazing things right now," said Johnson, who ironically also isn't on a basketball ride, instead he's on an academic scholarship. "He has the potential to become a great player and you can see his development out there on the court."

And the Tar Heels' as well.

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:

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