Tyler Zeller pushes North Carolina past loss to Florida State


Editors Note: With Great Pleasure I’d like to introduce you to Keeping It Heel’s Newest Staff Writer Jordan Woodson.

Less than three weeks ago, North Carolina suffered one of their most embarrassing defeats of recent memory. Riding a nine-game winning streak, UNC strolled into Tallahassee full of confidence before suffering an embarrassing 90-57 defeat at the hands of the Florida State Seminoles.

Losing a basketball game is understandable. Losing a basketball game like this was unacceptable and maybe even unheard of in Chapel Hill.

It was North Carolina’s biggest loss since 1963, when it fell 104-69 to rival Duke.

Some might say the game was an abnormality, a blip on the radar in North Carolina’s quest for the ACC Championship. Some have argued it was their first road game in six weeks and it was just “one of those games” for the Tar Heels. It’s hard to disagree when you look at the stats.

Florida State started the second half on a 30-8 run to turn an eight-point halftime advantage to a 30-point blowout for a Florida State team that had lost to Clemson by 20 only a week before.

The unusual stats don’t begin and end with the final score.

North Carolina allowed Deividas Dulkys, a Lithuanian combo-guard, to explode for 32 points on 12-of-14 shooting including an asinine 8-of-10 from behind the arc. That absolutely shatters Dulkys’ career-averages of 6.8 points per game while he has shot 35 percent from three in his career. Going off for 25 more points than your career average while shooting 80% from behind the arc is the very definition of abnormality.

Almost the entire box score was in Florida State’s favor: FG% (48-37), 3pt% (44-19), FT% (75-45), rebounds (41-33), assists (16-8) and steals (12-6). North Carolina had 22 turnovers compared to 17 for Florida State while North Carolina’s only positive stat-line was having 8 more blocks than Florida State (9-1).

North Carolina was at a crossroads after the 33-point loss. The Tar Heels were facing adversity they hadn’t seen all season and how they responded would let us know just how great this team can be.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Tyler Zeller stood up to the challenge, looked adversity square in the eyes, and started playing winning basketball.

Zeller responded to the loss by averaging 18.4 points, 11.2 rebounds while
shooting 57 percent from the floor in North Carolina’s current five-game winning streak since the loss to Florida State.

During that span, Zeller has picked up his play at the offensive end to give North Carolina a true inside presence to pair with Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and John Henson. Zeller has had a couple of monster games (18 points, 18 rebounds at Wake; 21 points, 17 rebounds vs. N.C. State) to rise into the conversation for ACC Player of the Year.

However, Zeller has increased his productivity the past five games against teams with an overall conference record of 16-28. N.C. State (6-3) is the only ACC team with a winning record during the current winning streak.

To remain in the discussion for conference player of the year, Zeller must maintain his strong play against teams in the upper echelon of the ACC. With two games each against Duke and Virginia remaining on the schedule, Zeller will have his opportunities to prove himself.

Zeller could begin his surge to the top of the leaderboard starting tonight when #5 North Carolina (20-3) hosts rival #9 Duke (19-4) in the first of two regular season contests between the two traditionally-great programs. Zeller will have a clear advantage inside and should be licking his chops staring at a backcourt consisting of the Plumlee brothers and Josh Hairston.

In order for North Carolina to win consistently, they must rely on the inside presence of Zeller and have the game flow through the big man. When failure comes, and it most certainly will a time or two down the stretch of the season, Tyler Zeller and the Tar Heels must take adversity in stride and let it know it won’t win. Or they won’t win.