UNC men's basketball forced to find new options in comeback against FSU

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Marcus Paige (5) drives toward the basket against Florida State’s Aaron Thomas (25). Paige finished the night with 20 points, 7 assists, and 4 steals.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It was all wrong.

James Michael McAdoo, the ACC’s Player of the Week, hit the floor and had the wind knocked out of him barely a minute into Monday’s contest against Florida State. He played just 13 minutes in the game, fouling out with four minutes left.

He was a nonfactor. Zero points.

Marcus Paige, who tallied five 3-pointers Saturday in North Carolina’s win against Pittsburgh Saturday, missed his first five attempts from the arc Monday.

Early on, he was barely there.

The Tar Heels’ shots weren’t falling. A 1-for-7 start. Then 2-for-13. They were hurried, uncomfortable in Florida State’s zone defense. Suddenly, UNC was down 21-6, resembling the UNC team that the Seminoles ran out of the Tucker Center, 90-57, in 2012.

The customary pieces were missing. The trusty formula didn’t compute.

Still, somehow, the Tar Heels found an alternative solution. Somehow UNC cobbled together a victory, the 300th ACC victory of coach Roy Williams’ career — a 81-75 defeat of Florida State. In typical fashion, Williams deflected praise for his 300th-win accolade after the game, instead focusing on his players’ performances.

“Well, that was about as bizarre a game as I was involved in early because there was nothing that we did that was very good,” Williams said.

“I feel like I’ve stolen every cookie out of the cookie store.”

During one UNC timeout in the first half, Williams yelled, “I can just sit down on the bench and let you guys lose by 50. The choice is yours.”

The Tar Heels couldn’t rely on their usual methods. They couldn’t just climb onto McAdoo’s and Paige’s shoulders — they had to take the leap themselves.

Brice Johnson came off the bench in the first half and scored 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting and brought down seven rebounds. He combined with fellow big man freshman Kennedy Meeks, who scored 13 first-half points and pulled down five boards, to fuel an explosive offensive 14-4 run and to enter the half down by just three, 36-33.

But there was still more work to be done — and limited tools with which to accomplish it. McAdoo sat most of the game, and Johnson soon joined him on the bench when he picked up his fourth foul midway through the second half.

UNC’s roster continued to unfurl. Jackson Simmons, Desmond Hubert and Luke Davis took the court in a rag-tag effort as the scoring margin ballooned and contracted.

“We all have capabilities of being leaders, especially us (upperclassmen) like me and Jackson, Luke, Brice, even though we don’t play as much,” said Hubert, who tied the game at 55-55 with a put-back dunk in the second half. “We’ve been here awhile, and we all know what we’re supposed to do, and we all know Carolina basketball, and we try to bring that to the table.”

Eventually, Paige would break loose from his first half handcuffs, nailing three 3-pointers and scoring 16 points in the second half. And Meeks would continue his offensive outburst, finishing with a career-high 23 points.

But UNC needed a guttier effort than usual to earn its seventh consecutive win Monday. The win was the Tar Heels’ biggest comeback of the season — and first win after trailing at halftime this season. And they did it, in large part, without the typical domineering presence of two of their best players.

“I think each person on this team knows their role,” Simmons said. “And we’ve seen that doing our job can get us the W.”

On Monday, the Tar Heels simply had to do their jobs differently.

sports@dailytarheel.com

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