UNC 77, Florida State 72: The look back

acarter@newsobserver.comJanuary 12, 2013 

— North Carolina entered Saturday in desperation mode and earned a hard-fought victory against Florida State. Here's the story..

And the look back …

Three things to take away from UNC’s victory:

1. This is how the Tar Heels are going to have to win games.

It wasn’t always pretty. And it certainly wasn’t a dominating performance. But UNC on Saturday won in large part because it played with a sense of urgency and want-to. That’s something this team has struggled with this season. The Tar Heels played well defensively, especially during the final four minutes, and they were aggressive offensively. The Heels at times have been a finesse team under Williams. But UNC grinded today. It’ll probably have to do a lot more of it to be successful.

2. Games like this are why some UNC fans believe P.J. Hairston should start.

Hairston was the best player on the court on Saturday, which is saying something given he shared it with teammates Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo, and with Florida State’s Michael Snaer. He created his own shot both on the perimeter and off of penetration, which led to two one-handed dunks – one of which cut the Seminoles’ lead to one with 3:53 to play. He finished with a career-high 23 points, made four 3-pointers and was the offensive force that UNC has lacked during its more difficult stretches this season.

3. What a game for Jackson Simmons, and what a story, too.

How’s this for a story: A guy who hardly ever plays significant minutes plays a career-high 15 minutes. He scores a career-high eight points, including the go-ahead points with about three minutes to play. He finishes with four rebounds and provides several hustle plays. And he does all of this almost a year to the day after being left on the court with a group of walk-ons during the final seconds of UNC’s 33-point loss at Florida State. And, oh yeah, it’s also his 20th birthday. That’s Simmons.

FOUR FACTORS

College Basketball

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More stats at StatSheet.com

GAME FLOW

NCAA Basketball

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More stats at StatSheet.com

UNC PLAYER OF THE GAME:

With a sentimental nod to Simmons, who made my job easier today, no one in the building was better than Hairston. His final line: 23 points, on 9-of-14 shooting, 4-of-9 from behind the 3-point line. Four rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot.

OBSERVATIONS AND NOTES

--In the final minutes of a game UNC desperately needed to win, Williams gambled and relied on an unconventional lineup of Simmons and four guards: Marcus Paige, Dexter Strickland, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston.

Among those five players, the 6-foot-7 Simmons is the tallest. Williams went to that lineup with 4:16 remaining, after James Michael McAdoo picked up his fourth foul.

“Jackson was doing such a good job when James Michael got his fourth foul, I decided to take him out and that’s probably the smallest lineup I’ve ever had in a game,” Williams said. “But [we] put P.J. on one of their other post players, who was Okaro [White], who was so hard to guard, anyway. But that did enable us to switch more.”

McAdoo and Strickland subbed in and out for one another during the final minute. Whether coincidental or not, the Seminoles never scored against the Heels’ small lineup, which provided the bulk of UNC’s 8-0 run to close the game.

--UNC shot 48.3 percent, and Florida State 48 percent. The Tar Heels had four more turnovers (14) than FSU and made eight 3-pointers – three fewer than the Seminoles’ 11 3s.

The main statistical difference of the game, though, came in rebounding. UNC had 19 offensive rebounds, while Florida State had 19 rebounds, total. That allowed UNC to take 10 more shots from the field.

The Tar Heels’ offensive rebounding percentage of 59.4 percent was their highest of the season.

--The Tar Heels did something they rarely do during the second half on Saturday. They played a zone defense. The goal, UNC coach Roy Williams said, was to more effectively guard the perimeter and against the 3-point shot. FSU made 11 3s, but none during the final 11 minutes. The Heels’ zone, which lasted all of one possession, didn’t allow a 3-pointer, but it did give up a three-point play. Sid Williams: “We go zone one possession, first possession of the year, and we play it terribly and give up a lay-up and foul him.”

--Junior guard Leslie McDonald missed his second consecutive game after injuring his knee in practice earlier this week. McDonald didn’t make the trip to Tallahassee, but the Heels’ other reserves compensated for his absence. UNC outscored FSU 35-21 in points off the bench. P.J. Hairston (23 points) and Jackson Simmons combined for 31 of those 35 points.

--It wouldn’t have taken much for Dexter Strickland to have a more productive game on Saturday than the one he had in UNC’s defeat against Miami on Thursday. Strickland against Miami finished with no points, rebounds, assists or steals, and on Saturday he said it was the worst game he had ever played. He was still mostly quiet against Florida State, and finished with four points, three rebounds and two assists.

QUOTABLE

“Best thing to say is happy birthday to Jackson … Today was his birthday, supposedly. I don’t know if the guys were teasing me about it. But if that’s the case, I’m going to tell him every day is his freaking birthday.” –Roy Williams

“We feel as fortunate as we can possibly be. The second half, I just didn’t think we could stop their 3-point shots from going in. And they also made some three-point plays the old conventional style. But our guys fought like crazy. I think the backboards were huge for us.” –Williams

“I just think our kids needed this, to say the least. We’ve been struggling, the pressure’s been on – the stress of being at North Carolina, starting out 0-2, on a young team is incredibly tough to handle, much less a veteran team. But this is not a veteran team. But again, just feel as lucky as we can possibly feel.” –Williams

“Honestly, I felt like I wanted it more than Florida State did. Because me, Reggie and Dexter – all of us being on that team last year – came down here and got basically embarrassed. We wanted to turn that around and come down here with revenge and basically beat them the entire night.” –P.J. Hairston

“When I got here this afternoon, and one of the things coach was telling us is do your job – everybody do your job. And that’s all I was focused on, getting shooters open, setting good screens, dive around the floor, getting rebounds. Just doing all the little things it takes to win a game like this.” –Jackson Simmons

“We get to the hotel last night, I’m just like, man, this is bad memories all over. Showing up to the arena today, just horrible memories in this place. But knowing that it’s a new year, another opportunity to go out there and play and kind of really use last year as motivation, knowing what they could do to us and what they did do to us, and not letting that happen again.” –James Michael McAdoo

UP NEXT:

After a much-needed win, UNC will now have nearly a week off. Sort of. The Tar Heels will practice a lot this week, but they don’t play against until a week from today (Saturday) against Maryland. The Terrapins visit the Smith Center for a noon game on Jan. 19.

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