Return to FSU could be motivation for Tar Heels
Last season’s game at Florida State proved to be a turning point for North Carolina. After a 33-point loss, UNC’s most lopsided defeat in the Roy Williams era, the Tar Heels wrote the number “33” on the whiteboard in their locker room as motivation before every remaining game.
UNC heads back to Florida State today hoping for another season-altering result (2 p.m., ESPN). This time, however, the Tar Heels (10-5, 0-2) don’t need an embarrassing loss to refocus their attention — they need a quality win to restore their confidence.
After faltering late in a pair of nine-point losses at Virginia on Sunday and home against Miami on Thursday, the Tar Heels are hoping to avoid their second-ever 0-3 ACC start in history, following the 1996-97 team.
“I’m stressed, there’s no question about that, but I’m not a guy to panic,” Williams said after the Miami loss. “I’m not a guy to give up or anything like that. I’m going to come in tomorrow, coach the crap out of them, grade the tape. This is one of those no-sleep nights, but I don’t sleep much anyway. As Charles Barkley said, ‘You can sleep when you die.’”
Meanwhile, the Seminoles (10-5), who also defeated UNC in the 2012 ACC Tournament championship game, have opened conference play with two road wins (at Clemson and Maryland) and are 2-0 in the ACC for only the second time since joining the league in 1992.
The Tar Heels have been within one point in the closing minutes of both their conference games, but allowed 10 straight points to Virginia and eight in a row by Miami.
“It’s extremely stressful,” freshman Marcus Paige said Thursday. “You play the game to win, and when you have a lot of opportunities like we did and then to just see it kind of slip away gradually really hurts. This is one we wanted, trying to get our first conference win.
“No one’s panicking. (But) it was really an emotional locker room afterwards. We really wanted this.”
Sophomore P.J. Hairston said it comes down to playing harder and doing the little things down the stretch that add up to victories.
“Diving on the floor, taking charges, getting people open, setting great screens, offensive boards,” Hairston said. “Just little things like that and it will turn into points automatically.”
UNC has had some of its most exciting recent wins in Tallahassee. Harrison Barnes’ 3-pointer with three seconds left gave UNC a two-point win in 2011, Ty Lawson hit a winning 3 at the buzzer in ’09, the Tar Heels won in overtime in ’08 and edged FSU by one in ’06.
Then came last year’s nightmare, which carried extra resonance nationally when Williams pulled his team off the floor with 14.2 seconds left because he didn’t want his players to be hurt when FSU fans rushed the court.
But because of a miscommunication, the five Tar Heels that were on the court remained in the game, making it look like they had been abandoned while the coaching staff and star players retreated to the locker room.
Williams said this week he had no regrets about his decision, which he said was suggested by FSU coach Leonard Hamilton, though next time he would make sure the walk-ons followed him out.
One of the UNC players who remained on the court, sophomore forward Jackson Simmons, said the situation was blown out of proportion.
“We were worried about safety when 20,000 college students are trying to run on top of you,” Simmons said.
There likely won’t be a need for an exit strategy for UNC today — beating this Tar Heels team isn’t as meaningful for the Seminoles. Besides, UNC is more focused on making sure the fans have no reason to celebrate.
“I hate to lose,” said James Michael McAdoo, UNC’s leading scorer. “I don’t really know what to do but come every day ready to work and get better, and don’t leave the results up to the other team but just impose my will and our will as a team.”