While it wasn’t anywhere near the 62 it posted against Duke, UNC once again dominated the points in the paint battle, besting the Seminoles 28-12 in that category, thanks in large part to first-year forward Nassir Little’s aggressive play in an 18-point performance. And while it appeared UNC might have a hard time dealing with FSU’s size inside, it outrebounded the visitors, 47-32.
Defensively, the Tar Heels held the Seminoles to just 30.5 percent shooting by forcing them to take far too many 3-pointers.
“It shows that we do other stuff well,” graduate guard Cameron Johnson said. “Shooting the ball well is icing on the cake.”
Johnson perhaps best represents UNC’s ability to adapt and win when the 3-pointer isn’t falling. UNC’s best outside shooter, Johnson flipped the script and scored 26 points against the Blue Devils on Wednesday without making a single 3-pointer, instead taking a career-high 13 shots from 2-point range. On Saturday, he made three shots from distance, but continued to attack the rim, scoring half of his points from within the arc and at the free-throw line.
Johnson nodded and grinned when asked if opponents think he can only score from 3-point range.
“Yeah, they’re kind of coming out pretty hard right now,” Johnson said. “So to get by them and to get to a little jump shot and get to the lane is big.”
Outside of Johnson, UNC made just 4 of 16 3-pointers, but Luke Maye stepped up and delivered a pair of makes from downtown when his team needed a boost.
Right after FSU trimmed UNC’s lead down to four points on a 3-pointer by redshirt first-year RaiQuan Gray with 10:36 remaining, Maye responded right away with his first 3-pointer of the day.
Just over a minute later, Maye pulled up from the top of the key in transition and banked one home as UNC’s lead ballooned to 12 points.
"Well, I am depending on the sucker to go in so they need to start making more,” Williams said. “I've always said you got to have great balance, and I don't know how many points we had in the paint today – 28 – I would like more than that.
“I always rather have great balance trying to get the ball inside and to be able to have shooters shoot the ball from the outside. If you bank one in every now and then that helps you too.”
Maye’s first 3-pointer started a 16-1 run that put the game away. Defensively, UNC aimed to limit drives to the basket and close out on jump shots, Johnson said. That strategy worked, as FSU made only 10 of 31 3-pointers and never could get redshirt sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele going. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward scored just eight points on 2 of 5 shooting after averaging 15.3 points during FSU’s eight-game winning streak.
FSU shot a dismal 25 percent after halftime and didn’t make a shot from the field for a stretch spanning 8:39 during the second half. UNC took advantage at the other end of the court, and Williams said he thought UNC “did a much better job offensively in the second half.”
“Our scoring really comes from our defense, so (when) we play great defense scoring the ball will be easier,” said junior point guard Seventh Woods, who had two steals.
Ultimately, shooting the ball well from 3-point range should be a big factor in how successful the Tar Heels can be this season because it’s part of the their identity; just three games ago they made 16 of 25 3-pointers against Wake Forest. If the season ended today, UNC’s 3-point shooting percentage (37.6) would be tied for its highest since the 2012-2013 season.
Maybe “dirty” isn’t the best way to describe UNC’s performance against FSU. But the Tar Heels are at least finding ways to win even when their shot isn’t falling all the time, which is what their coach begged for in January.
“Today wasn’t our best game, but we came out with a decent margin of victory,” Johnson said.
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