After laying an egg against Marquette, the Tar Heels just delivered a shocking win against No. 11 Florida State. This win breaks an ugly 10-game losing streak against ranked teams, but it also delivers Roy Williams his 900th career victory as a head coach. He also is now just three wins away from passing Bobby Knight on the all-time wins list, further cementing his place as one of the greatest coaches of all time.
Things did not start off as happily as they ended for the Heels in this game. After jumping out to a 5-0 lead via a three-pointer from Kerwin Walton, they failed to score another field goal for over six minutes. Thankfully the defense was much better than it was against Marquette, because Florida State only managed to score 10 points during that stretch. That didn’t keep the Seminoles from blowing the door off however, as they went into halftime with a 41-29 lead. The source of the problem for the Heels is one as old as time itself: 14 turnovers were committed, which led to 19 points for Florida State.
Things looked drastically different coming out of half time, as UNC opened things up with a made layup by Caleb Love. Walker Kessler took over things from there, as he played arguably his best game in a Tar Heels uniform against one of the best teams in the country. He completely took over the game by knocking down shots at the rim, throwing down dunks, running down the court for layups, and he even pushed the ball over the timeline when Florida State was trying to trap. It isn’t a stretch to say that he did literally he possibly could do to will the Tar Heels to a victory. He finished the game with 20 points, eight rebounds, four blocks, and a steal.
Kessler’s big-time performance also made things a bit easier for the guys on the perimeter. Kerwin Walton was able to contribute a couple of three-pointers to help the Heels stretch the lead, and even got some help from RJ Davis. Overall this wasn’t the best offensive performance from the front court to say the least, but on defense they did a much better job of shutting down Florida State’s offense than the first time these two teams met. The Seminoles finished the game shooting 38% from field goal range, and only made 29% of their attempts from deep.
Truly if you are looking for the first, second, third, and fourth reasons that UNC won this game, the answer is Walker Kessler. It’s been incredible watching the freshman big transform into such a dominant presence in the paint. What’s even better is that we’ve seen glimpses of him being able to do some things that we haven’t seen many Tar Heel bigs do in a long time. We are finally witnessing the paint dominance that we had always envisioned for this team, but it doesn’t come without some faults — in this game in particular, Day’Ron Sharpe was unable to get much done in the scoring department, and finished the game with just three points thanks to his made free throws. The positive, however, is the interior defense looks really good when everyone is on their game. It’ll be needed to finish out the regular season, and more importantly, it will be needed for the ACC Tournament.
Speaking of tournaments, this win will undoubtedly help make up for that ugly loss against Marquette. The only question is: can we trust this team not to make some back-breaking mistakes to finish out the season? Unfortunately none of us are likely qualified to answer that question, but it’s safe to say that if the Heels find a way to play to their full potential, this will be a surprisingly difficult team to stop from making it to March Madness.
Next the Tar Heels will take on Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. The game will be televised on ESPN.