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UNC Basketball vs. Florida State: Three things learned

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The Tar Heels rally in the second half, but come up short against Florida State.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 30 Wake Forest at North Carolina Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In last night’s game, Joel Berry II and the North Carolina Tar Heels nearly climbed the mountain and completed the comeback. However, the combination of lackluster first half defense and a nearly complete effort by Florida State doomed the Tar Heels.

UNC falls to 1-1 in the ACC, and a couple of glaring issues must be rectified before Saturday’s matchup versus Virginia. Here are a few of the takeaways from the 81-80 loss against FSU.

1. Starting on Time

In Carolina’s losses and near losses this season, a sluggish start was a contributing factor to the outcome. From the tip off, the Tar Heels were not executing at either end of the court. Halfway through the first half, Carolina was down by 13 and the Seminoles were having their way with the Heels.

Just from the eye test, it looked as though Carolina had trouble getting into an offensive rhythm. A more or less traditional lineup started the game with Garrison Brooks at the five, and working the ball inside seemed like a struggle.

When jogging your Tar Heel basketball memory, how many times has Carolina worked the ball inside and used high percentage shots to establish their offensive game plan? More times than you can count.

But it just did not seem to be working for the Tar Heels early. Luke Maye continued to struggle at the rim, and layups were elusive for a number of other players. Kenny Williams was the most efficient shooter early, and without his contributions, the first half start would have been much worse.

Despite the early issues inside, the Tar Heels continued to pound the glass and scoop up those offensive rebounds. The teams were tied with 19 rebounds each at the half. Carolina finished the game with a 41-37 rebounding advantage that included 17 offensive rebounds. Additionally, UNC held the points in the paint lead by a 14-12 margin in the first half, and finished the game with a 34-28 advantage.

There is no silver bullet, and good shooting will mask deficiencies in the paint. At this point, the young bigs are gaining valuable experience with each conference game, and Williams, Maye, and the rest of the veterans must continue to crash the boards and provide that support in the paint.

2. Defensive Efforts

The defensive efforts in the first half are certainly a factor in starting on time. Florida State went 18-33 from the floor in the first half, shooting 55 percent and going 9-20 from three.

Yes, the Seminoles shot the ball well, but they had plenty of time and space on a good number of shots. As Coach Roy Williams pointed out in the post game press conference against Wake Forest, there were issues with leaving six to eight feet gaps between the defenders and the shooters. This was a sticking point for Coach Williams after the Wake game, however the message was not received at the start of the FSU game.

It was evident that the locker room talk at the half centered around rotations and closing the gap. You did not have to look at the box score to know that UNC’s defensive efforts were more intense and well-executed.

Carolina forced nine FSU turnovers in the second half, and the Seminoles attempted the same number of three pointers as they made in the first half (nine). Theo Pinson’s foul troubles certainly played a factor into the outcome of the game. We will have to wait for the +/- with him on and off the floor, but Carolina was certainly a better team with him on the hardwoods.

An interesting note: Carolina had 13 more field goal attempts than Florida State in the second half (37 to 24), but the Seminoles had 10 more free throw attempts (15 to 5).

Needless to say, defense will be on display Saturday in Charlottesville. Since pace of play and methodical offensive strategy will be influencing factors on the game, the Tar Heels must focus on their defensive execution from the tip. Otherwise, the Heels may again find themselves playing from behind.

3. Joel Berry is a Gamer

Alright, so perhaps this is not something we learned, but it is certainly something that was further etched in stone. Without the efforts of Berry, the outcome was destined to be much worse.

Carolina tied it up at 58 at the 13:05 mark of the second half. At that point, Berry scored 11 of UNC’s first 18 second half points.

At the close of the game as UNC was battling for the victory, Berry scored 10 of the last 12 Tar Heel points in the game.

Timely three pointers, gutsy drives to the net, hustle plays to create turnovers, and setting the tone for the defensive intensity.

In 35 minutes of playing time, Berry scored 28 points, going 10-23 from the floor, including 4-8 from three. He hit all four attempts from the charity stripe.

Driving to the net seems to be the spark Berry needs when the jumpshot is not falling. Perhaps the physicality of getting into the lane really engages him in the game, or maybe it is a “Second Half Berry” situation.

No matter the cause, Berry continues to show up in the big moments. He just needs a little more help to make his job easier.