North Carolina

Top-seeded UNC not looking past Florida Gulf Coast

Before Tuesday night, North Carolina didn’t know much about Florida Gulf Coast. Then came the Eagles’ 31-point victory against Fairleigh Dickinson in an NCAA tournament play-in game.

“I was very impressed,” UNC coach Roy Williams said on Wednesday.

After its victory, Florida Gulf Coast arrived on Wednesday in Raleigh hoping to make history. Again.

The Eagles during the 2013 NCAA tournament became the first No. 15 seed to reach a regional semifinal. Now they’ll try to become the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed when the Eagles and Tar Heels meet on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

By Wednesday Williams and his players had heard the rumblings – that if ever a No. 16 seed could beat a No. 1, it might be a team that looks, in a physical sense, like Florida Gulf Coast.

“Generally speaking, I think the size and athleticism that they have, you usually don’t see on a 16 seed,” Williams said.

The Eagles’ victory against Fairleigh Dickinson was among their strongest of the season. Even so, Florida Gulf Coast hasn’t played a team of UNC’s caliber. The Eagles’ best win might have come against a 14-18 Massachusetts team.

If Florida Gulf Coast has an advantage, it might be this: The Eagles will enter the game without the burden of expectations. They’re supposed to lose, after all, just like every No. 16 seed before them.

“You certainly don’t want to be the one that ends that streak,” UNC guard Marcus Paige said. “Similar to how our Clemson rivalry (is) in the Dean Dome.”

PAIGE ‘HAPPY’ AMID FAMILIAR SITE, PREFERRED BALL: When asked last year during his junior season what was behind his 35-point performance at N.C. State back in 2014, Paige said that he savored playing at PNC Arena, and that he also prefers playing with the Wilson brand basketball that N.C. State uses.

Good news for UNC this week, then: Paige is back in PNC Arena for the NCAA tournament, which also uses a Wilson ball for all tournament games.

“So I’m happy,” he said. “But it’s good to be this close to home and we’re going to have a lot of fans here. And we’ve played here multiple times and it’s a place we’re comfortable with, so I think that should give us a little bit of an advantage, at least.”

UNC is 13-2 under Williams at PNC Arena. Two of those wins came in the 2008 NCAA tournament.

Paige, meanwhile, has made 43.1 percent of his 3-point attempts in the NCAA tournament – all with that Wilson ball. He has made 36.9 percent of his 3s during his time at UNC.

“I don’t think it really matters, honestly,” Paige said of the ball. “And then for me personally, I’m just trying to just start with a clean slate going into March.”

ETC. …: Williams and his players on Wednesday enjoyed a laugh at the expense of freshmen Luke Maye and Kenny Williams. When the Tar Heels were about to take the court for their open shoot-around, Maye and Williams eagerly ran onto the floor, thinking their teammates were behind. Instead Williams and the rest of the players stayed behind and laughed at their prank. … UNC is seeking to improve to 32-1 in NCAA tournament games in North Carolina. Said Paige, of that record: “I actually had no idea about that.” The Tar Heels have won 27 consecutive tournament games in North Carolina, last losing in 1979 against Penn in Raleigh. … UNC’s last four national championship runs started with tournament games in North Carolina cities: Greensboro in 2009, Charlotte in 2005, Winston-Salem in 1993 and Charlotte and Raleigh in 1982.

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter