Florida State had already missed its first seven shots, but with an early 13-point cushion, UNC graduate forward Brady Manek leapt into the air, hoping to prolong the streak by contesting a running layup. It sailed wide.
After an outlet pass reached the arms of senior wing Leaky Black, Manek crossed the state insignia at mid-court and bolted into second gear for a slashing flush over a Seminole defender. 15-0.
Just 20 seconds later, he jumped again, and another shot clanked off the rim. He filled the lane carefully on the right side, but Black instead gave a gentle shovel pass to sophomore guard Caleb Love, who pulled a quick trigger as his triple ripped the net.
Seminole head coach Leonard Hamilton stood several feet away from the scene of the crime and burned his second timeout of the half. The opposing sideline was equally shocked — except there were more hands blissfully waving in the air than sitting frozen on hips.
It was 18-0, but the Tar Heels’ fun was only getting started.
For the remaining 13 minutes of the half, the North Carolina men’s basketball team dimed, dunked and drained triples to put up crooked scores like 33-8 and 55-18, and by the end of the onslaught, the four Jumbotrons in the Smith Center displayed a score discrepancy the 36-year-old building had never seen at the half of a conference game: UNC 62, FSU 24.
“We knew what the score was, and each media timeout, I was just telling my teammates, ‘Stay on their necks, don’t let up at all,” Love said.
Even in a second half where the Seminoles outscored the Tar Heels by nearly 20 points, the home team still had 20 more to spare in a lopsided 94-74 win.
“One of the many things I’m so proud of about our guys is that when we get knocked down, we always get back up,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “We had a disappointing outcome against Duke just last week, and what was on the plate was for us to come and compete against two really, really good teams, and we did that.”
Despite both of those previous two games ending in mixed results, the one constant was the low energy the Tar Heels brought out of the locker room to open each contest. They trailed 8-0 against Clemson on Wednesday, and even more damning, 31-8 against Duke in a high-stakes rivalry battle one week ago.
But in the opening 20 minutes on Saturday, UNC simultaneously displayed its highly-touted offensive and defensive potential — arguably for the first time this season.During this time frame, the Tar Heels shot 23-31 from the floor, including 9-12 from deep, and held the Seminoles to just a 30 percent clip.
Even though Florida State boasts three 7-footers in its rotation, UNC slithered into the lane and finished at the rim with ease. Love and fellow sophomore guard RJ Davis scored 28 combined points in the first half thanks to a bevy of difficult shots, but slowed the game down by competing on both ends of the floor.
“Once we wanted to get stops on the defensive end, that translated to the offense and the fast break,” RJ Davis said. “And then we were able to find open cutters and the open man for the three.”
For as up-and-down as this season has been, UNC somehow only sits a game behind Duke atop the ACC standings — but instead of looking ahead to celebrating a potential regular season title, the Tar Heels are still fighting for their postseason lives.
When these two teams clashed in late February last year, the Tar Heels’ come-from-behind win over the then No. 11 Seminoles gave them a lifeline after weeks of treading on and off the NCAA Tournament bubble. For a team that is currently one of the projected last four teams in, beating a battered unit riding a five-game losing streak won’t move the needle quite that much this time around, but the offensive explosion is still an optimistic sign for a team hoping to put it all together at the right time.
“We wanted to be the first ones to make a statement, and I thought we did that,” RJ Davis said.
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