Tar Heels avoided ‘cliff’ with win at FSU
North Carolina (15-1, 1-2) could have been 3-0 in the ACC. It also could have been 0-3.
In all three conference games, the Tar Heels have gone into the final minutes either ahead or behind by one point.
The first two crunch-time performances weren’t good — in a pair of nine-point losses, UNC gave up 10 straight points to Virginia and then eight consecutive to Miami.
But with the season spiraling downward, the Tar Heels scored the final eight points at Florida State on Saturday to win 77-72 and bring some much-needed hope back to Chapel Hill.
“We were wounded,” UNC coach Roy Williams said Monday. “There is no question about it. We were on the edge of the cliff — not the fiscal cliff that everybody worried about a couple weeks ago, but we were on the edge.
“I think our guys had a much greater sense of urgency against Florida State than we’ve had recently.”
That urgency was most obvious on the glass, as the Tar Heels outrebounded the Seminoles by 22. UNC collected 19 of its 33 misses, giving the Tar Heels as many offensive rebounds as Florida State had total rebounds.
Reggie Bullock had five offensive rebounds, while seldom-used reserve Jackson Simmons, who came in averaging 1.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in 4.8 minutes, celebrated his 20th birthday with four offensive rebounds that led to eight points.
A putback by Simmons gave the Tar Heels the lead for good at 73-72 with 3:09 remaining, and steals by Bullock and Marcus Paige helped keep the Seminoles scoreless for the rest of the game.
All of a sudden, it was UNC, not its opponent, that played its best down the stretch.
“We played perhaps our most complete game of the year,” Williams said. “We made some shots, we made some stops and rebounded the ball and got lucky. That’s always involved.
“Florida State is really a good team, and it’s strange because we had a really gifted team ourselves last year, and we lose by 33. Then this year we’re able to sneak in and get a couple more points than they did.”
Williams credited his bench play, especially P.J. Hairston (23 points) and Simmons (eight points), who played the final four minutes after James Michael McAdoo picked up his fourth foul.
But mostly, Williams said that the biggest difference at Florida State was motivation. Only once before had UNC lost its first three ACC games.
“I think those two losses in a row made us play with a greater sense of urgency,” Williams said. “Ours was more of a sense of urgency and effort of how hard we were going to play, and we have been backed up against the edge of the cliff, so we needed to play.”
Still, the Tar Heels haven’t proven themselves yet. UNC beat a quality team before, ending non-conference play by defeating then-No. 20 UNLV only to lose their next two games.
Now, the Heels have to show they can consistently put together winning performances against good teams, starting Saturday at home against Maryland (noon, ESPN).
Williams said having the midweek bye at this point is good timing. Reserve guard Leslie McDonald is closer to playing after missing the past two games with a sore right knee, while third-string point guard Luke Davis currently is wearing a boot.
“It’s probably coming at a good time with a couple of our guys banged up,” Williams said. “We probably need a little break.”