North Carolina at Florida State 2 p.m., ESPN

Tar Heels hope to exorcise Tallahassee demons against Florida State

Bad memories loom in Tallahassee

acarter@newsobserver.comJanuary 12, 2013 

UNC06-SP-011412-RTW

UNC's Kendall Marshall (5) and John Henson (31) watch the final minute of play, as the Florida State Seminoles' rolled to a 90-57 victory over North Carolina Saturday January 14, 2012 at the Leon County Civic Center in Tallahassee, Florida.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com

— North Carolina arrived on Friday in a place full of bad memories, with the hope that something good will come.

The Tar Heels’ 90-57 loss at Florida State a season ago left Roy Williams with a regret or three, but he remains mostly at peace with the controversial way that game ended – with Williams and most of his players walking from the bench and off the court with 14 seconds still left on the clock.

“Have zero regrets about walking off the court,” Williams said earlier this week about a strange scene that inspired Internet memes and left Williams criticized for days on talk radio and fan message boards. “Absolutely zero. If you can pick a number that emphasizes it more than zero, pick that number.”

What Williams regrets is how poorly the Tar Heels played in that loss, which was the most lopsided of Williams’ head coaching tenure at North Carolina. And he regrets that when he walked off the court – with most of the players, assistant coaches and support staff following him – a group of five players remained to play out the final 14 seconds.

The point of leaving the court was to avoid the onslaught of Florida State fans, who Williams knew would storm the floor when the final horn sounded. And when it did, they did rush the court, leaving the five UNC players who’d been left behind to fend for themselves amid a throng of garnet and gold.

“It was crazy,” Jackson Simmons, a sophomore forward who was one of the five Tar Heels left behind, said earlier this week. “I went in and I knew that the crowd was just going to topple over on top of me. And when the horn sounded, I just got out of there.”

Almost exactly a year later the Tar Heels are back in the Seminoles’ Donald L. Tucker Center, which played host to their lowest of low points a season ago. After the Tar Heels returned from that disastrous trip last year, the number 33 – a reference to FSU’s margin of victory – remained written on a board inside the UNC locker room.

The number was meant to inspire, and perhaps it worked – the Tar Heels went on to win 12 of their final 13 games in the regular season. Now, the Tar Heels return to Tallahassee not seeking vengeance, necessarily, but a victory that could turn around their season.

Last year, the Florida State game in Tallahassee represented all that went wrong for North Carolina during the regular season. This year, the Tar Heels are hoping the same road trip could be a catalyst for better things.

After an 0-2 start in ACC play, North Carolina is searching for something – anything – positive. After his team’s 68-59 loss against Miami on Thursday night, Williams described a demoralized group of players. He said the Tar Heels were feeling the stress of their poor start.

If there was one positive that came after another late-game collapse – the second in as many games – it’s that the Tar Heels didn’t have time to wallow. Williams said he was planning to analyze film on Thursday night. The team gathered for practice on Friday, and then took off.

Williams acknowledged his team’s stress affects its lack of confidence. Yet he said there’s no time to worry about that, either.

“Life’s going to throw you some curveballs, life’s going to throw you some adversities,” he said. “And if you’re always worried, you’re never going to get that changed. And I told them we’re going to come back [Friday] and we’re going to work our butts off and we go to Florida State.”

The quick turnaround is both a positive and negative for North Carolina: a positive because the Tar Heels must move on quickly after two disappointing defeats; a negative because Williams believes his team needs more practice time.

“I’d rather have 66 practices and get a lot better,” he said.

Instead, the Tar Heels had one practice and a plane ride before their game today – one that brings back painful memories of the past, but hope for the future, too. As bad as the Tar Heels played at Florida State a season ago, a loss today might come with even more dire consequences.

“I just remember coach just writing the number ‘33’ on the board,” Reggie Bullock, the junior guard, said. “And they beat us by 33 points, so we shouldn’t say anymore about it. We should just go out and play.”

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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