Credit: US Presswire

UNC Basketball Game Review: ACC Tournament Championship! Tar Heels vs Florida State

UNC 82 FSU 85 FINAL

The North Carolina Tar Heels vs The Florida State Seminoles, the two took completely different paths on their collision course here in the ACC Tournament Championship.  Top seeded Carolina and the third seed Seminoles last met in Tallahassee and FSU but a epic beat down on UNC.  A 33 point blowout to the then heavy underdog served as big wake-up call for the Heels.  The win also served as the first step towards a catapult to national recognition for FSU.  The Seminoles knocked off Duke in Cameron the very next game after defeating Carolina.

UNC then went on a tear the rest of the season losing just one more game, a one point, last second loss to Duke which they would avenge in the regular season finale to capture the ACC regular season championship.  To complete the sweep the Heels will have to defeat the very team that served them a whole lot of humble pie in their last meeting.  FSU stayed in the top 20 of the national rankings for most of the season after those two historic wins for the program.  If one good thing can be said for the Seminoles surprise run as a legitimate team on the national level, let alone just a conference threat.  That thing would be that FSUs “storybook” season has done a lot, along with Virginia and NC States strong seasons to legitimize the conference after a barrage of unfair criticism the conference took this year.  It’s time for the ACC Tournament Championship!

The biggest news coming in was whether or not junior two time conference Defensive Player of the Year John Henson would play.  He dressed but did not start and Carolina coaching staff said he would only play in case of an emergency.

How it went down: FSU got out to an early lead in the games first five minutes riding efficient play in the half court and knocking down their jump shots.  The Heels tied it at all 11 at the 15 minute mark, Tyler Zeller got going early with four quick offensive rebounds.  Harrison Barnes went int attack mode early taking four shots in the first five minutes including a couple of hard aggressive early drives to the basket.

Down three 16-13 through six and a half, UNC was in a dog fight early in this one.  FSU, typically a good transition team, but still a team you would expect to try and slow the tempo against the high octant Tar Heels.  However through the games first eight minutes, FSU made a concerted effort to get out in transition themselves and seemed willing to play a fast tempo game against UNC.

Michael Snaer started 4-4 from the field and 2-2 from beyond the arc and scored 10 early points.  Starting hot 4-6 from three, they extended the lead to eight at 27-10 half way through the first half.  Devidas Dulkys also knocked down a couple threes for the hot shooting Seminoles.

Again Roy Williams went with freshman Desmond Hubert in the lineup with the Heels trailing.  The way Justin Watts played defensively at every position he played against NC State, I don’t understand playing a freshman in this game.  Watts should get those minutes inside when Zeller or McAdoo needs a break.  Hubert cannot contribute anything offensively and is by comparison limited defensively.  I again questioned his rotations when he plugged both Watts and Stillman White in the game at the same time with 4:35 left.  Down seven, struggling to score in the half court, why bring two guys in that cannot create their own shot?

Through 12 minutes of action, the Tar Heels trailed the confident Seminoles by nine 33-24.  The importance of John Henson has been magnified as FSU had an early 11-9 advantage in the rebounding department.  The Tar Heels had just two assists on ten FGs through 13 minutes.  Kendall Marshall had five assists in seven minutes on Saturday against NC State, had just one in the first 14 minutes today.

UNC was plagued in the first half by rushing shots in the half court.  James Michael McAdoo reverted back to being a little out of control and looked in a rush when he received the ball in the lane.  Through the first 15 minutes UNC was just 0-3 from beyond the arc with FSU 5-7 and continuing to find ways to find wide open, quick three pointers for their shooters.   If one thing is blatantly obvious in the first half.  It’s that FSU is an extremely confident team.  I wouldn’t be surprised whatsoever to see the Seminoles make some major noise in the big dance.

With Marshall taking a break at the 4:30 mark, FSU went on another mini run and extended the lead to 11 their largest of the game at that point.  The Heels desperately needed to find a way to play more patient basketball in the half court.  Maybe more importantly, they needed to not just close the gap on the boards, they need to get back to dominating the glass like they are used to.  Aside from Barnes, Zeller and Marshall, UNC got next to nothing offensively from anyone else on the court.  McAdoo and Reggie Bullock failed to get anything going through 17 minutes of play.  With Henson out, production in the paint by McAdoo is huge to take pressure off Zeller and Bullock needs to stretch the defense with his shooting.

After a Carolina time out with UNC down 10, FSU continued their run with two big stops and two 3PFGs and extended the lead to 16.  Another TO by Roy Williams to settle the group was again called, uncharacteristic of Roy.  Barnes bailed them out with a three pointer to cut it to 13 at the two minute mark.  UNC looks lost in the half court and continue to leave open shooters on defense.  Another score by Barnes cut it to 11 and suddenly the Heels had some energy, but they were still down 11.

My confidence was not growing along with the crowd who started to get into the game behind the Tar Heels.  Leonard Hamilton took a turn calling a TO to settle his troops this time with just under two minutes to go in the half.  Carolina desperatly needed to build on their run and get the score under control before the half  Shooting 61% through 19 minutes, FSU was beyond hot offensively.  Marshall took it coast to coast with an effort to get two for one at the end of the half.  Riding a 7-0 run the Heels cut the lead below double digits to nine with 50 seconds left, FSU found an open big man for the dunk and Marshall hit another tough jumper to close out the half.

The score at the half UNC 40 FSU 49

Keys to the second half for Carolina: Defense, the Seminoles were shooting over 60% from the field and were getting far too many good open looks.  Both the interior and perimeter defense had issues for Carolina and some big half time adjustments are needed if the Heels wanted to come back in this one.  Losing a second loss and an 0-2 record against the Seminoles was not just a possibility but a very real reality. Also facing possibly missing out on a #1 seed in the big dance after winning the ACC regular season championship, finishing the season ranked #4 nationally and playing well thus far in the ACC Tournament, it would be a shame if UNC couldn’t pull this one out.  It would also serve as a hit to their confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament after dropping two against the Seminoles this season.  Scary fact, in the 33 point blowout in the regular season, FSU was up eight at the half, down nine today we would need to see a different Tar Heel team to win.

The second half: UNC didn’t come out of the locker room until just before the second half started.  Judging by the looks on the Tar Heel players they took a beating in the locker room.  The Heels were still sloppy in their first two possessions, missing in the lane and committing a turnover on the second.  Marshall committed two quick turnovers in the first two and a half minutes of the half.  The lead extended to 12 after another wide open three by Dulky.  UNC continued to struggle to execute in the half court against a tough Seminole zone defense.  Through four and a half minutes the FSU lead was 10 and Carolina was showing no signs that they were going to adjust and play like they need to in order to win this game.

The Seminoles remained hot from beyond the arc hitting another three to go up 13.  Now 9-17 from deep, the Carolina perimeter defense had failed to step up through five minutes of the second half.  Carolina went to the zone at the 15 minute mark in an effort to show the perimeter shooting of FSU.  PJ Hairston knocked down a three after a couple back and forth baskets by both teams and the lead was still 11 in a suddenly high paced offensive shootout.  Typically a pace like this would favor the Heels but the red hot shooting Seminoles kept a hold of the advantage.

Hairston hit his second consecutive three pointer at the 13:35 mark getting the crowd going as Carolina cut it down to eight.  I like the TO strategy of FSU coach Leonard Hamilton who immediately called a timeout to settle his team down.  The last mini-run by UNC was quickly thwarted after a similar TO call in the first half.  With the lead at its lowest point in a long time, the Heels desperatly needed to grab this opportunity and go on an extended run.  Again the Tar Heels, like so many other times this season would have their resiliency tested.

A heat check three by Hairston missed, a defensive breakdown pushed the lead back to double digits.  Zeller with a transition basket, another inside basket by FSU and the seesaw game was back.  Hairston knocked down his third three in as many minutes, a frenzy of action by both teams cut the lead to seven.  Carolina was starting to get it going offensively but would have to find a way to get some stops defensively.  Plenty of time left with 11 minutes to go and it was clear this was going to be a dogfight.

Free throws by Tyler Zeller cut the lead to five, but Z was called for goal tending and the lead went back to seven.  Hairston jacked up another three, missing, now 3-5 in the last five minutes.  Nice to see him knock some down but the Heels needed to be careful of relying on it.  The Heels got a couple defensive stops and the lead was down to five at 68-63 with nine minutes left.  A transition put back by Reggie Bullock and the lead was three points.  In a weird situation Tyler Zeller had to leave the game with apparent shoe issues and changed them on the sidelines.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a basketball player have to leave the game due to a shoe issue, Z re-entered a couple minutes later.

A couple of odd calls that went against UNC put the lead back at six and a huge three right in Bullock’s face and suddenly the lead was back to nine.  It was Snaers first points of the second half after a great first half.  Carolina went on another strong run fueled by aggressive defense that forced a couple turnovers.  The TO’s then led to some transition buckets that UNC was looking for with a stagnant half court offense.

With five minutes to go UNC trailed by six 77-71.  No doubt we were all in for a thrilling end to this years ACC Tournament Championship game.  I began to wonder if John Henson would enter the game now.  Roy said he would play in an emergency situation or if they needed him right at the end for a minute or two to win the game.  Was this the type of game Roy was talking about?

A BS call on Tyler Zeller sent FSU to the line and they extended the lead back to eight.  Zeller quickly attacked and drew the foul, McAdoo missed a wide up layup blowing an easy opportunity.  Bullock quickly drew the Seminoles sixth team foul moving closer to being in the bonus which could be key leading down the stretch.  A big follow up dunk by McAdoo followed and the lead was six with four minutes left.

In the final four minutes, another big three extended the lead yet again in a frustrating game.  Down seven, Marshall drew a Snaer foul to put the Heels in the bonus at 1-1, FT shooting would be extremely critical down the stretch.  The seesaw continued with a couple of stops and buckets by Hairston and Barnes.  The lead was now just four points with 1:53 to go.    A miracle three point shot by Marshall after a non call on an obvious foul on Hairston cut the lead to one.  30.1 seconds left, no shot clock and FSU ball, six team fouls meant FSU would go to the line with a Carolina foul.  The drama continued after the ball was kicked out by McAdoo now 27.4 seconds remained and FSU called another TO, each team had one remaining.  After the foul, FSU missed the FT, Marshall missed a three with a chance to win.  An immediate foul, Dulky knocked down both FTs and the Heels needed another miracle with 3.9 seconds left to tie the game.  Zeller through a bullet inbound pass to Hairston who called a quick TO at the half court line.  Now 3.3 seconds left and the ball at mid court.  PJ Hairston got a decent look and came very close to connecting but missed and the Tar Heels lost.

Key Takeaways: Harrison Barnes attacked offensively early, even when he’s not lighting it up, he needs to attack early and give the other team something to think about just like he did today.  Kendall Marshall continued to assert himself as a scorer and looked for his shot early, challenging his defender by penetrating hard to the basket.  John Henson really must get healthy and play in the NCAA Tournament for the Heels to have a shot at the title.  This is a good team without Henson, but they are no where near the team without him that they are with the ACC DPOY in the lineup.  The bench production was non-existent for Carolina in the first half.  FSU led the Heels 16-1 in bench points at the half way point.

James Michael McAdoo who has shown signs of life and indications he was ready to break out, looked like a freshman for much of this one.  McAdoo leaves a lot to be desired defensively and rushes himself on the offensive end far too often.  He looked great against MD but regressed back to the timid, rushed player who looks unsure of himself on the court for much of the game today.

PJ Hairston really looked good.  Aside from just hitting three three point shots in a three minute span.  He moved well without the basketball on the perimeter.  And most importantly in my view, he attacked the basket.  A very skilled dribble perpetrator with great athleticism I’ve yearned for him to utilize his entire game all year.

Up Next: It’s Selection Sunday and both teams are locks for the big dance.  It’s all about the seeding for both the Tar Heels and Seminoles.  FSU just stacked their resume with two wins against both Duke and UNC this season and should get a good seed.  The Heels could still get a #1 seed in the tournament.  Advancing further than most of the other contenders for the vacant two of the four #1 seeds they are still in very good contention.  Without the win though the Heels are not guaranteed anything.

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