With March here, UNC continues hot streak
If the goal in college basketball is for teams to play their best in March, then North Carolina is off to a great start.
Playing a Florida State team known for defensive intensity, the Tar Heels shot 55.4 percent – their best performance against a Division I opponent this season – and handily defeated the Seminoles 79-58 Sunday at the Smith Center.
It was a season-high fifth win in a row for the Tar Heels (21-8, 11-5 ACC), who are now 5-1 since going to a perimeter-oriented starting lineup.
“I think we’re getting more confident and we should be,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.
Florida State (15-14, 7-9) has led the ACC in field-goal percentage defense for four straight years – leading the nation in two of those seasons – but the Seminoles couldn’t stop the Tar Heels’ revamped rotation, which features forward James Michael McAdoo and five perimeter players.
UNC blew the game open with a 27-5 run in the first half and led 46-27 at halftime. The Seminoles never got closer than 12 after intermission.
The Tar Heels’ three leading scorers did most of the damage. McAdoo had 17 of his 21 points in the first half, while Reggie Bullock finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds and P.J. Hairston made 4 of 6 shots from long range and scored 16.
“It’s like a triple-barrel gun,” Hairston said. “All of shooting at the same time. It’s hard to stop us.”
Freshman Marcus Paige, who tied a career high with nine assists, said that the spacing has improved since the 6-5 Hairston replaced center Desmond Hubert in the starting lineup.
“Having open driving lanes is going to lead to easier baskets,” Paige said. “P.J. and Reggie get a lot of open looks because me and (shooting guard Dexter Strickland) are able to attack more.
“Usually when there’s two guys on the block it gets too crowded to dribble in there and make something happen. To have one guy just kind of working around the inside, when you drive you have more options.”
Strickland had four assists and no turnovers – he has 25 assists and three turnovers during the winning streak – and Bullock and Hairston combined to go 8 of 13 from behind the arc.
“When I hit that first one, I just knew we were in a rhythm as a team,” Hairston said. “Reggie came down and hit one. From then on it was like the basket was getting bigger for us.”
Their accuracy also gave McAdoo room to work in the post, and the sophomore made 10 field goals for the first time since the season opener against Gardner-Webb.
After FSU took its only lead of the game at 16-15, McAdoo scored 11 of UNC’s next 14 points to put the Tar Heels back up by 11. McAdoo’s run included three dunks, a block and a steal. UNC wound up scoring on the final 11 possessions of the first half to put the game out of reach.
Preseason first-team all-ACC selection Michael Snear had 17 points for Florida State, but shot just 5 of 18 and had a game-high five turnovers.
The guard-oriented lineup scored 23 points off 15 Florida State turnovers, and gave UNC a 113-52 edge in points off turnovers in the six games since Hairston entered the lineup.
The undersized rotation also didn’t allow the Seminoles to take advantage in rebounding – the final tally was 31-31.
“It’s all about winning, so you have to be happy with that part,” Williams said. “I think we’re a little more active with that defense – we don’t block shots around the basket like we did before… but I think we’re more active defensively.”
NOTES – Freshman J.P. Tokoto wasn’t available after he bruised his right hand in practice on Saturday. The forward hadn’t scored in his last four games and had played just 23 total minutes in the five games since UNC shortened its rotation. … Phil Ford and Bill Guthridge were honored at halftime. Ford was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame last year, and Guthridge will be enshrined in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in May. “When you think of North Carolina basketball you think of Dean Smith,” Williams said. “But you don’t go very far down the list before you get to Bill Guthridge and Phil Ford.” … UNC football coach Larry Fedora joined the student section for the game. He stood in the front row of the risers near the Tar Heels’ bench.
NORTH CAROLINA 79, FLORIDA ST. 58
Percentages: FG .371, FT 1.000.
3-Point Goals: 4-18, .222 (Bookert 2-3, Miller 1-4, Snaer 1-6, White 0-1, Thomas 0-1, Brandon 0-1, Whisnant II 0-2).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 7 (Bojanovsky 3, Turpin 2, Thomas, Brandon).
Turnovers: 15 (Snaer 5, White 3, Bookert 2, Gilchrist, Thomas, Turpin, Whisnant II).
Steals: 7 (Snaer 2, Thomas 2, Brandon, Turpin, Bookert).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .554, FT .600.
3-Point Goals: 9-15, .600 (Hairston 4-6, Bullock 4-7, Paige 1-1, McDonald 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked Shots: 3 (Bullock, Johnson, McAdoo).
Turnovers: 11 (Paige 3, McAdoo 3, McDonald 2, Bullock 2, Hubert).
Steals: 6 (Strickland 2, Paige 2, McAdoo, Hairston).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Ray Natili, Jamie Luckie, Bryan Kersey.