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Early effort sinks UNC late in ACC loss to Florida State

Roy Williams following loss to Florida State: “For us we need to play better, we need to play smarter”

Joel Berry scores 28 in Tar Heels’ loss to Florida State on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 at the Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, Fla.
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Joel Berry scores 28 in Tar Heels’ loss to Florida State on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 at the Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, Fla.

Joel Berry would like that last shot back.

North Carolina’s senior guard had scored 21 points in the second half and had a chance to give the 12th-ranked Tar Heels a last-second road win over No. 24 Florida State.

Down by a point with time running out, Berry drove to the basket, FSU’s defense collapsed and he tried hit a tough running floater.

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North Carolina’s Joel Berry II (2) drives to the basket against Florida State’s Mfiondu Kabegnele (25) in the second half on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 at the Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, Fla. Berry lead all scores with 28 point in the Tar Heels’81-80 loss. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

The ball bounced off the rim with 1.7 seconds left, and FSU held on for an 81-80 win, its 28th straight home win and first over the Tar Heels (12-3, 1-1 ACC) anywhere in eight tries.

“On that last play, that was my fault,” said Berry, who finished with a game-high 28 points. “Coach had told me in the huddle don’t just go in and throw up a shot.

“I missed Cam (Johnson) out on the wing for an open 3. That probably would have been a more high percentage shot.”

Maybe but Berry’s difficult miss wasn’t the reason UNC lost on Wednesday. The Tar Heels dug too deep of a hole with a poor defensive effort in the first half.

“It shouldn’t have come down to that (shot),” junior guard Kenny Williams said. “We didn’t make the plays earlier in the game to avoid that situation.”

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North Carolina’s Kenny Williams (24) between Florida State’s Trent Forest (3) and Phil Cofer (0) during the second half on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 at the Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, Fla. Williams scored 18 points. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

FSU (12-2, 1-1) made nine 3-pointers and shot 54.5 percent to build a 51-40 lead at the half. If not for Williams, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half, it would have been a lot worse.

UNC’s defensive effort, especially when FSU took the ball to the basket, was lacking. The Heels were caught helping too much, because they couldn’t stop the initial penetration.

“We just didn’t guard the ball,” senior wing Theo Pinson said. “When you have to help, it leaves shooters open.”

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North Carolina’s Theo Pinson (1) tries for a steal from Florida State’s C.J. Walker (2) during the first half on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 at the Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, Fla. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

The Tar Heels came into the game ranked No. 12 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. They had allowed an average of 0.86 points per possession. FSU averaged 1.41 points per possession in the first half.

The Seminoles put up the first 50-point half UNC had allowed all season and shot the highest percentage UNC had allowed in any half this season.

“That wasn’t us,” Kenny Williams said. “That’s not what we do defensively.”

UNC was much more effective in the second half. The Noles only scored 30 points and shot 41.7 percent. They also went 2-of-9 from the 3-point line after a 9-of-20 start.

“I don’t know if we did anything or if they just missed shots,” coach Roy Williams said.

But there was a noticeable difference in intensity in the second half, as Johnson noted. UNC was able to cut off more drives and close out on more shots.

“I think it all comes down to how bad do you want it,” Johnson said. “We have to play with that same intensity and that same focus, not just when we’re down a lot, but from the opening tip.”

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Florida State’s C.J. Walker (2) and Mfiondu Kabegnele (25) trap North Carolina’s Cameron Johnson (13) under the basket during the first half on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 at the Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

UNC did actually erase the 11-point deficit and take the lead twice in the second half. Sterling Manley’s follow at 12:13 gave the Heels their first lead, 60-59, since they were ahead 5-4 at the 17:11 mark of the first half.

A three-point play by Pinson gave the Heels a 63-61 lead at 11:07, but the Noles outscored UNC 16-6 over the next 7-plus minutes.

Berry scored 10 of UNC’s last 13 points but couldn’t get his last shot to fall. He lamented not the late miss but the team’s early effort.

“You either attack or you be attacked,” Berry said. “They attacked us in the first half. In the second half, we were a little bit more aggressive than they were and that’s what we should have been doing in the first half.”

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

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