The North Carolina men's basketball team (15-8, 9-5 ACC) defeated No. 11 Florida State, 78-70, in the team's best win of the season, behind a career-high 20 points from Walker Kessler, all to give head coach Roy Williams his 900th career win.
Both teams started slowly, combining for just 10 points by the first media timeout. Despite making their first two shots, the Tar Heels wouldn't score another field goal for the next six minutes, while Florida State (14-4, 10-3 ACC) slowly managed to claw its way to a 10-5 lead.
After the first eight minutes, North Carolina was shooting just 20 percent from the floor and 12.5 percent on 3-pointers. UNC has made its bread and butter this year in the post, but the team scored just one layup by the time of the second media timeout, a tip-in from Kessler. A 3-pointer from both Kerwin Walton and RJ Davis was enough for the Tar Heels to stay close, and a pair of free throws from Davis and Leaky Black cut the Seminoles' lead to just two points by the nine-minute mark.
FSU would respond by immediately going on a 7-0 run to push its lead back up to nine, 23-14. The Tar Heels were unable to dent the lead as they continued to struggle with turning the ball over and making shots, and the Seminoles would enter the break up 12 at 41-29.
UNC started the second half like a team shot out of a rocket, going on a 10-0 run to cut Florida State's lead to just two. The team took its first lead on a dunk from Kessler to make the score 46-44. Kessler would provide the spark the Tar Heels needed to surge ahead, making a driving layup and a fastbreak dunk to give them a seven point lead with nine minutes left, their largest of the game.
North Carolina battled for the rest of the game but never relinquished the lead after taking it at the 11:45 mark, making enough free throws down the stretch to win the game, 78-70.
Who stood out?
One of North Carolina's problems all year is that it rarely had multiple players performing their best all at the same time, or even during the same game. Against the defensive minded Seminoles though, it was Walker Kessler who scored a career-high 20 points to go along with eight rebounds and four blocks as the best player for UNC.
The real star of the team wasn't any one player though — it was the Tar Heels' free throw shooting that secured the win. The team shot 90 percent from the line (27-30) in the best performance of the season.
When was it decided?
North Carolina looked to have a comfortable lead up eight points with under a minute left in the game. But a quick layup from RaiQuan Gray cut the lead, and then an almost-immediate steal from Malik Osborne opened the possibility of a catastrophic meltdown for the Tar Heels. The Seminoles were unable to convert on their layup attempt, though, and UNC made its free throws down the line to end it.
Why does it matter?
Defeating Florida State is UNC's most impressive win by far this season, and goes a long way to helping North Carolina make the NCAA Tournament after the embarrassing loss to Marquette earlier this week. The Seminoles stand alone at the top of the ACC and came into the game ranked No. 11 in the country.
The win also gives Williams his 900th career victory, leaving him three wins away from No. 3 in career wins for Division I head coaches. Williams now trails only Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Bob Knight as the winningest head coaches all-time.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels take on Syracuse in two days on Monday, March 1, for their penultimate game of the season. UNC has just two more opportunities to strengthen its case for a bid to the NCAA Tournament later this month.