The North Carolina Tar Heels (14-13, 4-8 ACC) are a program with a strong tradition. However, as we discussed the Heels have had major issues lately and those issues showed up again today in Tallahassee. Once again UNC only played six players and Florida State (21-4, 11-1 ACC) was able to wear them down to win their 11th straight ACC game 94-63 to keep pace with Louisville for second place in the ACC.
FSU got off to a dream start. The Noles scored the game's first 10 points. Florida State clearly wanted to establish Ivey Slaughter (12pts, 4reb) in the post and the junior responded with four quick points. Both teams started out in man to man but UNC clearly had the most trouble dealing with the defense as the Heels missed their first five shots. That wouldn't last however because after FSU grabbed the early lead Carolina responded with a barrage of threes. Stephanie Watts (19pts, 9reb) and Destinee Walker (18pts, 5asts) combined to hit four threes in a row to cut the Seminole lead to 15-12. From there the Noles went on another 10-0 run to end the quarter with a 25-12 lead.
In the second quarter FSU's defensive intensity dipped just a bit and UNC was able to take advantage. This contest was a game of runs early and UNC put together a 10-0 run early in the second quarter to cut the lead to 25-22. The teams then mostly traded baskets for the rest of the quarter and FSU ended the half with a 41-35 lead.
In the third quarter the Noles made their move. The quarter featured a four point play from Emiah Bingley (15pts, 5asts) but Adut Bulgak (19pts, 14reb) led FSU with nine points in the quarter. The quarter featured an 11-3 FSU run and a 14-0 FSU run. Florida State was able to balloon the lead to 68-46 and that was too much for UNC to overcome. The Heels were never able to cut the lead to closer than double digits for the rest of the game.
Once again UNC's depth issues undermined their chances in this game. The Heels had three players (Destinee Walker, Stephanie Watts and Jamie Cherry) play a full 40 minutes in the game. Carolina only has six scholarship players on the roster so heavy minutes like this are not unusual for this trio. With this lack of depth FSU was able to wear down North Carolina and get a rather lopsided win.
FSU got the job done as a team in this one as six players scored in double figures. Leticia Romero (15pts, 8reb, 5ast) had a strong all around game. FSU also played well defensively holding UNC to .339 shooting for the game. Bulgak was outstanding down low and she had help from her twin tower teammate Kai James (10pts, 6reb). The two centers helped FSU have a massive 51-35 rebounding edge in this game. FSU also only had 11 turnovers in the game against 23 assists. The Noles will definitely need to continue this strong guard play on Thursday.
Florida State heads to central New York for a date with the Syracuse Orange (20-6, 10-3 ACC) on Thursday, February 18 at 7pm on your Regional Sports Network.
This game will be a true test for FSU's guards. Romero, Bingley and Brittany Brown will have to be on their games because the Orange will press from the first tip until the final buzzer. SU wants a frenetic pace that will allow them to force turnovers and take three after three after three. SU forces opponents into 25.8 turnovers per game while only committing 14.4 turnovers themselves. Coach Quentin Hillsman has done a good job installing his system and his players are very comfortable with it.
Syracuse is led by 5'7 junior point guard Alexis Peterson (14.5pts, 5.4asts). Peterson is a very quick lead guard who is always looking to push the pace. She gets help from 6'4 junior center Briana Day (10.8pts, 7.9reb) - not to be confused with her twin sister teammate Bria - and 5'11 senior Brianna Butler (13.7pts, 3.5reb). 5'8 senior Maggie Morrison comes off the bench but she shoots the second most threes on the team (after Butler) and if she gets hot she can shoot the opponent out of the gym.
Syracuse as a team only shoots .296 from behind the arc but they survive on volume and rebounding the long misses. They have shot 789 shots from distance compared to only 432 for their opponents. FSU can handle playing at a fast pace but what they can't handle are turnovers. As long as FSU keeps those down and the Orange doesn't hit the three point lottery the Noles should take this game. It won't be easy though because Syracuse is a quality team that is likely Tournament bound (ESPN has them as a 6th seed).
This is the first game in what will be a tough stretch for FSU with Notre Dame, NC State and a rematch against Miami to end the season. This will give FSU a chance to get a marquee win (FSU is 0-4 against the top 25) but the Noles will have to continue their strong play. The Orange represent the first step in the final march to the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. Sagarin has FSU as a 3.5 point favorite.