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UNC vs. Florida State - Player of the Game: Walker Kessler

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Roy Williams’ 900th win will forever be known as the “Walker Kessler Game”

Northeastern v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

If you watch Premier League soccer, you’ll notice that the English broadcasters will often lament that matches stuck in a standstill require a player who will, “Grab the game by the scruff of the neck.”

With Carolina basketball, we’ve grown accustomed to an aesthetically pleasing brand of offensive basketball, usually with heady point guard play and bigs who work in concert to dominate the boards and free throw attempts. That’s down to Roy’s system and philosophy.

A perfect storm of calamities prevented this UNC squad from reaching the dizzying heights of past teams. Fretting over what could have been with a normal offseason, or not having cancelled games riddled throughout the schedule is a futile exercise. This team is who they are. And unfortunately, they lack a leader.

Walker Kessler might not be that leader today. But against Florida State, he gave UNC what they needed the most. A spark. Fire. The balls to make a shot.

When Kessler entered the game, Carolina was stuck in neutral, having surrendered an early 5-0 lead to fall behind 10-5. The freshman big man was his usual hustle-and-elbows, committing himself to action. But yesterday, in a must-win game, he was something more. He was a protagonist surrounded by passengers. Kessler took it upon himself to make something happen in a game where precious little was happening for Carolina.

Walker Kessler’s stat line was impressive: game-high 20 points (9-10 shooting, 2-2 FTs), game-high 8 rebounds (5 offensive), game-high 4 blocks. Each and every point that Kessler scored was needed, as the rest of UNC’s bigs only produced 13 points. Total.

What was more impressive was the manner in which Kessler compiled his statistics. He was not afraid of the moment or the opponent. He attacked. He had conviction. He grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and willed Carolina to victory.

Roy Williams will have a lot to look back and reflect on with his 900 victories, but one thing that he’ll have to consider from win #900 is if Walker Kessler has earned a place in the starting lineup. Don’t be surprised if he makes the switch before postseason play. Walker Kessler showed Roy and the world tonight that he’s ready to step up.