Noles Lose a Late Lead, Miss a Golden Opportunity against UNC

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State returned home after nearly a month away from the Donald L. Tucker Center a rejuvenated team. A season that looked to be teetering on the brink of disaster a month ago had been given a shot in the arm as FSU got off to a 2-0 start in the ACC. And with the North Carolina Tar Heels looking quite vulnerable in losses to UVA and Miami earlier this week, the opportunity for the Noles to do something they had never done before—start 3-0 in the ACC—seemed there for the taking.

Unfortunately, UNC came in with a desperate look in their eye and FSU could not get enough stops to turn three and four point second half leads into nine and ten point leads.

Check that.

FSU got quite a bit of initial stops on the defensive end. However, the Noles simply could not contain the Heels and the offensive glass, allowing 19 second-chance points and losing precious time off the clock late in the game. Overall in the game, FSU was outrebounded 41-19 and 19-6 in terms of offensive rebounds. In the end, it was simply too much for even a hot-shooting Noles team to overcome and UNC snuck out of Tallahassee with a 77-72 victory—snapping FSU’s seven game winning streak against teams from the ACC in the process.

After the game, rebounding was the theme of the press conference.

"[The] rebounding edge was huge," said North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams almost immediately after sitting down in front of the microphone.

Coach Hamilton echoed Williams’ thoughts. "Each time we made a mistake by not blocking out, they took advantage of it," Ham said. "They had 19 offensive rebounds…that’s the same number of total rebounds we had."

When speaking with the players, it was much of the same.

Terrance Shannon talked about the need to improve team rebounding and getting all five guys crashing the defensive glass.

Terry Whisnant, who helped FSU to maintain a lead for a good part of the second half thanks to blazing hot three-point shooting, spoke of the need for the guards—starting with himself—need to do a better job helping out in the rebounding department, especially on long rebounds off of missed threes.

However, Okaro White probably summed up the rebounding woes the best.

"It’s really just a mindset," said the junior forward who led FSU with 15 points and 6 rebounds. "I just feel that when a player really wants to get a rebound he can go get a rebound. It’s just about who wants it more." On Saturday, the players wearing baby blue wanted it more.

While the rebounding clearly left something to be desired, Hamilton was quick to point out that despite the second chances for UNC, FSU still had plenty of opportunities to beat the Tar Heels for the third consecutive time. The Noles were very active defensively along the perimeter, nabbing eight steals and deflecting probably twice that many balls. But time after time, FSU could not convert the steals into points.

"I think we had six breakaway opportunities where we did not use good judgment, said Hamilton. "When you get outrebounded and you don’t score in transition…against a really good, talented team, in the ACC you aren’t going to be successful."

Several of those wasted opportunities came late in the game. FSU led 68-65 with 5:48 to play in the game when the defense came up with a steal. But poor spacing on the 2 on 1 break allowed the defender to cover both guys at once, leading to a missed layup and keeping it a one-possession game. A few minutes later, now trailing 75-72, FSU again came up with a steal at mid-court. This time, however, they couldn’t even get a shot off as UNC stole it right back (I should mention that this particularly play involved a curious non-call to say the least). All in all, FSU went scoreless over the last 4:16 and registered just two fast break points in the game despite the eight steals.

After the game, it was clear that while the team is certainly improving, the missed opportunities left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth.

"Obviously we are extremely disappointed that we couldn’t close the game out," Hamilton noted. "You have to give them credit, they did the things they had to do to win. Hopefully we will learn from this and give us a better idea of how we have to play in the ACC."

FSU will have plenty of time to learn from their mistakes as they now have a week off before traveling to Charlottesville, Virginia to take on the Virginia Cavaliers. Virginia beat this North Carolina team last Sunday, but has since dropped two consecutive games to Wake Forest and Clemson—both on the road. That means another game with a team who is desperate to get back in the win column, so the improving Noles better bring the same energy and focus that propelled them to a 2-0 start. Welcome to life in the ACC.

Other game notes and thoughts:

Kiel Turpin had one of his better offensive nights with 6 points and 2 assists—one of them a pretty pass to a cutting Whisnant for a dunk. However, Hamilton commented that the big man still needs to bring better focus on the defensive end, particularly with maintaining his position and boxing out.

FSU had another solid game in the turnover department, with only 10 in the game. However, Hamilton commented that he feels FSU is still learning to play as a unit on the offensive end. "We’re better playmakers, but still not as cohesive [as we will be]."

Terry Whisnant noted that he is feeling very confident in his shot right now, and thinks his teammates can sense it as they continue to look for him on the perimeter.

When asked about FSU having to rely on guards for much of the scoring, Hamilton responded, "We are who we are. We don’t have a great low-post game right now."

It might not show up in the box score, but Michael Ojo put in five solid minutes today (all in the first half) and made his presence felt on the defensive end. Hamilton commented that he and Boris are looking better and better in practice, but still working on translating that to games on a consistent basis.

Aaron Thomas went 2-2 from three today, doubling the number of threes he has made on the season.

It was obvious all night that UNC was playing with more desperation than FSU. After the game, Coach Williams started things off by saying, "Our kids needed this, to say the least. On a young team it’s been incredibly tough to handle." It’s nice to know that FSU can take a talented team’s best shot and still be in position to win the game. But as Hamilton noted, if this team wants to make it a 5th straight NCAA Tournament, they are simply going to have to learn how to consistently bring the level of intensity that it takes to win in this league. A lot of this falls on the shoulders of Michael Snaer and Okaro White.

Speaking of Snaer, from my vantage point I was sure his deep three late in the game was going in and we’d be headed for overtime. (It was just long). Apparently I wasn’t the only one. "I thought [Snaer’s shot] was going in," said Williams. "[I’m] not sure I’ve coached against many guys I respect more than Michael Snaer."

While the loss stings, looking at the big picture a 2-1 start to ACC play was probably the best-case scenario in my mind when the season started. FSU now enters a four-game stretch where they play two teams they have already beaten (Clemson and Maryland) and only one of the top teams in the league (Miami). If FSU can find a way to actually win some home games, FSU could realistically be sitting pretty at 5-2 going into a home showdown with Duke. And perhaps the best news is, only one of the four teams (Maryland) is better than 100th in offensive rebounding percentage, according to KenPom.com.

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