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Saturday February 4th

Preview: UNC must handle tough Florida State defense in matchup on Saturday

UNC junior forward Justin McKoy (22) plays defense during UNC Men's basketball's home game against Virginia Tech on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, at the Dean Smith Center.
Buy Photos UNC junior forward Justin McKoy (22) plays defense during UNC Men's basketball's home game against Virginia Tech on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, at the Dean Smith Center.

Following a close 79-77 win at Clemson, the North Carolina men's basketball team will return to the Dean E. Smith Center, where it was undefeated this season before its blowout loss to Duke.

The Tar Heels will face off against a struggling Florida State team that is on a five-game losing streak.

However, a home matchup against a struggling ACC opponent still doesn't guarantee a win for North Carolina. Here are several things the team must focus on to be successful on Saturday.

Scoring against a feisty Florida State defense

Despite the current dry spell, Florida State’s defense has allowed the team to maintain a winning record so far this season.

The Seminoles are 13-10 and ranked ninth of the 15 ACC teams. Their defense has gotten the team out of some dangerously close games and is holding opponents to only 69.2 points per game.

Florida State needs its strong defense, as the team only scores an average of 71.2 points per game, which ranks 180th in the nation. In its most recent loss, the team scored only 51 points against Pittsburgh.

UNC’s offense will have to show out on Saturday to offset a hungry Seminole defense. Averaging 78.1 points per game, the Tar Heels have a better offense, but to stay ahead, they will need to have a high-scoring game like the recent 100-80 win against N.C. State and 90-83 overtime win against Louisville.

Top Tar Heel offensive players will be essential. North Carolina’s top scorers, forwards Armando Bacot and Brady Manek and guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis, will have to execute to put pressure on their opponents.

Winning the free-throw battle

Free throws may provide an opportunity for UNC to get an advantage over the Seminoles. However, the team must be cautious of its own fouls as well.

Florida State has two players who average at least two personal fouls per game and three who average 1.9. This could give the Tar Heels a good number of appearances at the free-throw line, where they shoot 75.7 percent. Despite this team average, some North Carolina leaders struggle at the charity stripe. 

Notably, top scorer and rebound leader Bacot only has a 68.5 free-throw percentage. Making — or missing — free throws could have a significant impact on this game, in which it is likely that North Carolina will be fouled often.

Looking at the other side of the spectrum, UNC accumulates its fair share of personal fouls.

Bacot was in foul trouble for much of the second half against Clemson on Tuesday, which kept him on the bench during key moments. If this trend continues on Saturday, it will give Florida State plenty of opportunities to attack the rim and score at the free-throw line.

Florida State isn’t as efficient as UNC at the free-throw line, as the Seminoles only make 70 percent of their foul shots. Regardless, if the game is as close as the team's recent contest, North Carolina will need to remain aware of the fouls it is accumulating and have success at the free-throw line to pull ahead of the Seminoles.

Strong, consistent defense and a successful performance at the free-throw line will be essential if UNC basketball wants to be victorious against Florida State.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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