Having lost its ACC opener at No. 2 Duke, No. 24 Florida State entered Wednesday’s game against No. 12 North Carolina in need of a victory. Leonard Hamilton’s team got the job done, hanging on to beat the Tar Heels 81-80 to extend its home winning streak to 28 straight games. Also, the Seminoles ended a seven-game losing streak to North Carolina, with both teams now 1-1 in ACC play as a result.
Here are a couple thoughts on what happened in Tallahassee and how it will affect both teams moving forward.
1. Over-helping off of drivers cost North Carolina in the first half.
Florida State went into the locker room at the half with a 51-40 lead, with the 51 points being the most North Carolina has allowed in the first half of a game this season (previous high: 38). The Seminoles shot 54.5 percent from the floor overall and made nine of its 20 three-point attempts. Florida State certainly deserves credit for knocking down shots, but a big part of the problem for North Carolina was it showing too much respect to dribble penetration.
On multiple occasions such a move would result in Florida State having kick-out opportunities, which its shooters were able to take in rhythm. North Carolina improved in this regard in the second half, with Florida State shooting 2-for-9 from three and 41.7 percent from the field overall. Defending the three has been an issue for the Tar Heels for much of this season, and it was a big reason why they trailed by double digits at the half.
2. Balanced scoring will serve Florida State well in ACC play.
The big question for the Seminoles entering the season was who would pick up the slack offensively, given how much production was lost from last season’s team. Terrence Mann, who averaged 8.4 points per game last season, was the most obvious answer. He’s certainly been a factor this season, but the Seminoles have been able to account for the loss of the likes of Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Isaac and Xavier Rathan-Mayes by way of their offensive balance and that was the case Wednesday night.
Three players scored at least 17 points, with Braian Angola leading the way with 20, C.J. Walker adding 18 and Mann 17. Trent Forrest chipped in with nine, and that balance was certainly a factor in the Seminoles’ ability to pull out the victory. Phil Cofer had an off night, scoring five points on 2-for-11 shooting, but he entered Wednesday averaging 14.5 points per game on a team with five players averaging at least 9.5 points per night.
There may not be a guy averaging 17 per night like Bacon did last season, but Florida State has enough talent to get the job done offensively. Scoring 93 at Duke and now 81 against North Carolina backs that up.
3. North Carolina’s ceiling will be determined by the consistency of Theo Pinson.
Joel Berry II racked up a game-high 28 points to lead three Tar Heels in double figures, with Kenny Williams adding 18 points and Luke Maye 14 in a losing effort. What Berry and Maye will provide offensively is pretty much known at this point, and Williams’ efforts coming off of a 13-point game against Wake Forest is a positive. But if North Carolina is to reach the heights scaled by the last two teams, Roy Williams is going to need consistency on the offensive end of the floor from Theo Pinson.
Thanks in part to injuries it feels as if we’ve been here for quite some time when it comes to Pinson: while the energy and effort he brings isn’t to be overlooked, by now shouldn’t he be a more consistent producer offensively? After scoring 19 points in the win over Ohio State the senior wing had eight against Wake Forest, and Wednesday night he scored five points on 2-for-6 shooting. Pinson’s certainly capable of being a double-digit scorer on occasion, as he’s done so four times this season, but North Carolina will need him to do so more often if they’re to make a run nationally.
4. Florida State’s late game decision-making left something to be desired.
Turnovers nearly did in the Seminoles especially late, when they made some suspect decisions with regards to passing the basketball. There was a home run attempt that sailed out of bounds, and there was also a cross-court pass picked off by Pinson that led to a Berry three-pointer to cut the deficit to one with 30 seconds remaining. Overall Florida State’s 15 turnovers were converted into 24 points by the Tar Heels, whose plus-12 advantage in points off turnovers made it possible for them to make a run and even take the lead in the second half.
Florida State was able to hang on, but that was a bit of a disappointment after the team did well in valuing the basketball in its loss at Duke. Given how tight the top of the ACC is likely to be, Florida State will need to make sure this was an anomaly — to be fair, they’ve been solid with regards to turnovers for much of this season — from a turnover standpoint.