On the road this weekend against Wake Forest the Noles fell into a 24-8 hole when nothing was going right. They were resilient though, and battled back to take a must win game. Tonight against UNC it was that game in reverse. Everything went right early for FSU on their way to a 21-6 lead, but UNC never stopped battling, and they eventually captured the lead midway through the second half and held on for an 81-75 win.
This was a strange game, with the whistles coming hot and heavy in the first half. Once the total reached 20 the Tucker Center foul tracker broke (seriously). Okaro White barely played in the first half with two fouls. Michael Ojo picked up three. James Michael McAdoo had three for the Heels, and seemingly everyone else had two.
The biggest play of the first half involved a foul, but not on any of the aforementioned players. Boris Bojanovsky fell for a pump fake and ended up landing awkwardly and hurting his back. At the time, the Noles were up 15, but Ojo had two fouls and couldn't replace Bojo. So FSU went small, and they began mixing in a zone defense. With the bigs out of the game, FSU got shredded. Layup after layup brought the Heels all the way from 15 down to just 3 down at the break. Michael Ojo came in late to try and defend UNCs bigs, but picked up his 3rd foul.
Meanwhile, Ian Miller and Aaron Thomas were carrying FSU against the No. 12 defense in the nation. They were both attacking, and Miller was knocking down 3s. On the night he made 5-8, but those were unfortunately the only 3s FSU made in the game.
The second half was more of the same. UNC kept scoring, and FSU couldn't quite keep up. Ian Miller, Montay Brandon, and Aaron Thomas were called upon to stop UNCs talented guards, but Miller and Thomas were gassed. The three of them combined to sit a total of 7 minutes in this game, and Aaron Thomas never came out. Every time FSU tried a zone, it ended in quick points for UNC, so it had to be abandoned. And Devon Bookert wasn't quick enough to guard Marcus Paige, and he wasn't big enough to guard their suite of 6-5 guards, and so the other three had to go until they were done. On offense, Montay Brandon had his best half of the season to help shoulder the load.
In the end, it was a great effort, but they fell short. As Minnick mentioned in the game thread, had FSU played this hard against Clemson and Miami then we wouldn't have had to win this game. As it is, the Noles now need a miracle to make the NCAA tournament in what would have been a great accomplishment for a team picked 9th or 10th in the conference.
The Noles now have two highly unlikely paths to the Dance. They can win four straight to close out the season, or they can win the ACC tournament.
Ian Miller scored 22, Montay Brandon had 18, and Aaron Thomas had 16. Now the Noles are off until Sunday when they travel to the always electric atmosphere of Pitt's Peterson Event Center.