Before diving into this, some caveats.
Florida State, losers of six straight games after holding sole possession of first place in the ACC as recently as January 22, were decimated by injuries. Anthony Polite, Malik Osbourne, and Naheem McLeod were all out, and leading scorer Caleb Mills turned his ankle early in the first half, and did not return.
So, the first half defensive effort by Carolina was admirable, but it wasn’t against Leonard Hamilton’s first, second, or third choice squad. Regardless, the Heels can only play who is in front of them, and the Seminoles available yesterday afternoon were worked Rihanna style in the first half.
UNC blitzed FSU to start the game, racing to an 18-0 lead. The Seminoles did not score for the first seven minutes of the game, and when they did, they only posted one point when Tanor Ngom hit one of two free throws. Carolina stretched the lead by six more points before Florida State made their first field goal.
The Tar Heels were active on defense, grabbing four steals and five blocks, while only fouling four times. UNC had 15 defensive rebounds compared to FSU’s three offensive boards. The Seminoles turned the ball over eight times in the first half. Some of that was from good Carolina defense, but there were several unforced errors that surely gave Leonard Hamilton his trademark bemused face. He actually wears his mask, so it’s hard to tell most of the time.
Active defense helped Carolina keep Florida State’s points total low (the Seminoles finished the first half with just 24 points on 9 for 30 shooting), but it also ignited the Tar Heel offense. Blocks, steals, and defensive rebounds led to good fastbreak opportunities, and the Heels took advantage, scoring 16 points on the break (20 for the game-total). Here were two beautiful examples of that:
If Carolina can continue putting teams below them in the ACC standings to the sword like this, they should be good for the NCAA Tournament. UNC’s inability to perform like this against better teams will be aggravating, but beating up on the less fortunate can be a pleasure all its own.