Before the tip off for Wednesday’s game against Florida State, Carolina fans had reason to be optimistic about playing in Tallahassee. Coming off of a last second win against Wake Forest in the ACC opener, the Tar Heels hoped to build on their 1-0 start to conference play, as well as continue the recent domination in Florida State’s home arena that last saw Brice Johnson pour in 39 points and 23 rebounds.
It didn’t take long for those feelings to evaporate in the form of an avalanche of three-pointers from FSU. And although the Seminoles eventually cooled off, Joel Berry couldn’t quite muster enough late game magic to lift North Carolina to another win as they fell to Florida State, 81-80.
Not much went right for Carolina in the first half, as Florida State piled up 51 points and shot 55 percent from the floor. “In the first half, we couldn’t do anything with their three-point shots,” Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams said, “We weren’t getting up to the shooters...they made nine threes in the first half.”
The worst defensive half that Carolina had played all year came to a close with a seemingly fitting end; Florida State guard M.J. Walker buried a pull-up three in over Cam Johnson to put the Seminoles up 11 heading into the break, 51-40.
The second half started out much better for the Tar Heels. Over the course of the first 10 minutes of action, Carolina gradually cut away at the Florida State lead, eventually taking a one point advantage on a Sterling Manley layup with just over 12 minutes to go and held a two-point lead with just under 10. Unfortunately, the lead never grew to any greater than that.
“I think twice we had the ball and a lead, but we never got it to more than one possession,” said Williams. FSU capitalized on the Heels’ inability to extend their lead by responding with a 13-2 run to put the Tar Heels down 9, and Carolina would never hold a lead again. Despite another late game push by Joel Berry, who scored 8 of the Tar Heels’ final 10 points, his runner with 7 seconds left wouldn’t fall and allowed the Seminoles to escape with the victory.
As much as North Carolina wished to leave Tallahassee with a win, there were positives to build on in a second half where the Tar Heels outscored Florida State by ten points and battled back from being down double digits. Berry continued to provide instant offense down the stretch, scoring 21 of his game high 28 in the second half, but Williams noted that the star guard can’t continue to do it all if they want to be successful.
“You’ve got to get some other guys to step up,” he said when asked if Berry being the main offensive catalyst was good or bad. “I’ve never minded a guy making a lot of points as long as he’s getting some help, but we need to give him more balance.” As Williams continues to search for balance in his lineups, the Tar Heels will travel to Charlottesville to play #8 Virginia. To split this two-game road trip, Williams knows the Heels will need to “not dig as big a hole in the first half.”
If they can build off much improved second half, Virginia could have its hands full with the Tar Heels on Saturday.