"Shooting the ball well is just icing on the cake"

UNC basketball is like a cake.

The key ingredients are the same each year: rebounding, points in the paint and running in transition.

The chef, if you will, tinkers and adjusts how the cake is prepared so the recipe is perfected when it’s ready to bake in March.

Secondary ingredients like 7-footers, one-and-dones and scoring guards are added and subtracted depending on what’s available, but the base stays the same.

And the icing, according to Cameron Johnson, comes and goes.

“Shooting the ball well is just icing on the cake,” Johnson said after No. 8 North Carolina (22-5, 12-2) blitzed No. 16 Florida State (21-6, 9-5) 77-59, snapping the Seminoles’ eight-game winning streak in the process.

As this team has shown, the thing about cake is that it tastes pretty good even if the frosting is left out.

Because for the second consecutive game, UNC shot poorly from beyond the 3-point line.

And for the second consecutive game, it didn’t matter.

Luke Maye fights to secure a rebound during UNC’s win over FSU. The senior forward finished the afternoon with 13 points and 11 rebounds, his 11th double-double of the season. | Photo by Alex Kormann

Luke Maye fights to secure a rebound during UNC’s win over FSU. The senior forward finished the afternoon with 13 points and 11 rebounds, his 11th double-double of the season. | Photo by Alex Kormann

A game after beating No. 1 Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium with a 10 percent clip from three, its lowest in a win since shooting 8.3 percent against Gardner Webb in the 2012-13 season opener, Carolina handled the Seminoles despite a 7-for-20 effort from deep.

“Well I’m depending on the sucker to go in, so they need to start making more of them,” Roy Williams said. “But I’ve always said that you’ve got to have great balance.”

Much to Williams’ liking, UNC again had great balance.

Johnson and Nassir Little were the headliners with 18 points apiece, but Luke Maye had 15, Coby White added 10, and Carolina scored 28 points in the paint en route to its seventh AP Top 25 win.

“Each game is gonna be different, and we have guys that are really capable of a lot of things,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to adjust. You’ve got to make changes.”

One such adjustment over the course of this season has been turnovers.

As UNC broke in a freshman point guard in White, giveaways were frequent and ill-timed.

Cameron Johnson hypes up Nassir Little after an And-1 bucker during UNC’s win over FSU. The graduate transfer and freshmen tied for the lead in points for UNC, each bringing in 18 over the course of the afternoon. | Photo by Alex Kormann

Cameron Johnson hypes up Nassir Little after an And-1 bucker during UNC’s win over FSU. The graduate transfer and freshmen tied for the lead in points for UNC, each bringing in 18 over the course of the afternoon. | Photo by Alex Kormann

Carolina had only two games of 10 or fewer turnovers over the opening 20 games. In the seven games since, UNC has done that four times.

“We had 10 turnovers,” Williams said. “I thought we had 103.”

It felt like UNC had 103 rebounds as well.

The Tar Heels out-rebounded the Seminoles, one of the tallest teams in the country, 47-32 and outscored them 15-9 in second-chance points.

“Just because we are taller does not mean we are better rebounders,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “They have always been one of the top rebounding teams in the nation.”

Little’s eight boards were a career high, and his sky-high put-back off a Johnson missed jumper in the second half was only one of two highlight dunks of the day for the freshman phenom.

Little’s jam over 6-foot-10 Mfiondu Kabengele in the first half set the tone for UNC’s aggression inside.

“It’s a mindset,” Little said. “It’s kind of saying like, ‘I’m going to dunk, and whoever jumps, I don’t think you’re going to stop me.’ But they can try.”

And, just like Little ascending for a rim-rattling jam, UNC is trending up at the right time.

Along with Virginia and Duke, the Tar Heels are locked in a 3-team stalemate at the top of the ACC with four games left, including the regular-season finale at home against the Blue Devils.

Icing or not, the cake is almost ready.

@jleland_