After Wednesday’s loss to Marquette, today’s game against Florida State now had more meaning than it originally. Carolina was back to having to fight for their NCAA Tournament lives. With that in mind, you would’ve thought that they would’ve come out with a certain level of desperation. Instead, after taking an early 5-1 lead, Carolina quickly fell behind the visitors the double digits. Sloppy turnovers were once again the main cause for the first half struggles, as they committed 14 of them in the first half. Add in the Seminoles length, and overall physicality it wasn’t a recipe for offensive success, thus UNC trailed 41-29 at halftime.
The other after falling behind, UNC made a couple of runs that Marquette had an answer for, as they controlled the game. After going to halftime down 12, it didn’t seem possible that this particular Tar Heel team was capable of making such a comeback. Then Walker Kessler happened.
The strength of this team has been the play of their trio of bigs in Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks and Day’Ron Sharpe. A few games ago though, Walker Kessler made the most out of his minutes, and since then his role has grown. Today, he literally sparked a massive second half comeback, as UNC started the second stanza on a 13-3 run to get back into the game. Kessler scored 20 points on 9-10 shooting, and grabbed 8 boards. But it was more than his scoring and rebounding, he was blocking shots, setting screens, he effectively changed the way the game was played. His energy and effort sparked the team, and the 3,200 fans inside the Dean Dome. Carolina rode that wave of energy, and mounted a potential season saving comeback, beating #11 Florida State 78-70.
This wasn’t as classic as the 1993 comeback against FSU, but this was a lot of fun for the players, coaches, and the fans. Here’s how the Tar Heels won Roy Williams his 900th game, and in the process may have locked themselves into the NCAA Tournament next month:
Walker Kessler: What more can you say about the freshman from Georgia? There’s nothing more fun than watching a guy capitalize on an opportunity, and Kessler has done that in more ways than one. His length allows him to get almost any rebound that’s near him, and he’s given this team a rim protector, something they haven’t had since the 2017 national title team. In his last 5 games, he’s scored 59 points, as he’s going to be a big part of the team moving forward.
Second Half Defense: After allowing 41 points in the first half, the Tar Heels clamped down and only allowed 29 in the final 20 minutes. For the game, Florida State shot 39%, and was just 5-17 from behind the arc. When this team commits to playing on that end of the floor, it makes the game easier for them, which allows them to compete with anyone in the ACC.
Free Throws: Entering today’s game, UNC was shooting just 65% from the foul line as a team. Today they went 27-30 for 90%, including hitting their 18 to close out the comeback
Rebounding: Florida State out-rebounded UNC back in January, tonight Carolina won the battle of the boards 44-36. Of those 44 rebounds, 20 came on the offensive end, which were then converted into 15 second chance points. They did allow 18 offensive rebounds to the Noles, so that’s something that’ll need to be cleaned up heading into the final week of the regular season.
Roy Williams: He won his 900th game as mentioned above, becoming just the fourth men’s college basketball coach to do so. While he wasn’t the first to win 900 games, he did so the fastest. He’s now won his 500th, 600th, 700th, 800th, and now 900th game at his alma mater.
Up Next: Carolina heads to Syracuse on Monday, in what will be a battle of bubble teams in regards to the NCAA Tournament. UNC won the first matchup back in January, and will go for the sweep starting at 7 on ESPN.