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No. 8 Florida State grinds out a victory over North Carolina

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The game was far from pretty, but 19-3 sure looks nice.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Lacing them up just 48 hours after dispatching the Virginia Tech Hokies, the 8th ranked Florida State Seminoles took on an underachieving North Carolina Tar Heels squad in front of packed house at the Tucker Center. And while the game was all kinds of ugly, FSU did what it typically does at home and walked away with a 65-59 win. The victory moves FSU to 19-3 overall and 9-2 in ACC play. Carolina drops to 10-12 on the season and their faint hopes for an NIT berth are dwindling daily.

FSU and UNC are known for their aesthetically pleasing styles of play, but they got off to a hectic start, despite some up and down action. Neither team found a shooting rhythm, with the ‘Noles particularly cold to start the game. Fresh off a record-tying 7-7 performance from deep against the Hokies, Devin Vassell missed numerous open looks to start the game en route to a quiet first half. After five minutes, FSU was 3-13 from the field and the game was all squared at 7-7.

Patrick Williams, a Charlotte, North Carolina native who wasn’t heavily recruited by UNC, came off the bench and provided an immediate spark. Williams got it going with a made silky-smooth mid-range jumper off the dribble and then drilled a corner three following a fantastic dribble-drive and kick from Trent Forrest to put the Seminoles up 12-10.

However, the poor overall shooting would continue for FSU, with the ‘Noles hitting just 26% of their shots from the field in the first 11 minutes of the game. The Tar Heels, led by sure-fire one-and-done Cole Anthony, took advantage of easy opportunities, looking to run off turnovers and missed shots. And just like that, the Heels led 18-12.

Forrest and Vassell finally were able to get a couple shots to drop to trim the lead to 18-16 at the under-8 media timeout. But the offense still couldn’t seem to find any rhythm. With three minutes to play in the first half, FSU was 1-8 from three and trailed the nine-point underdog Tar Heels 28-20.

Fortunately, as they’re wont to do, the Seminoles closed the half strong. Forrest found Balsa Koprivica for an easy lob, before draining a three from the wing. After another stop, Williams drilled a corner three, and the Seminoles took a 29-28 lead into the locker room after a 9-0 run to end the half.

Whatever rhythm the team briefly found to end the half was lost during the break. Florida State’s shooting woes continued to open the second half with normally reliable scorers like M.J. Walker and Forrest missing several open looks. The good news for Seminole fans was that UNC couldn’t make much either. After 29 minutes of play, the teams were 31 of 91 from the floor and just 7 of 26 from three.

With Vassell, Walker, and Anthony Polite struggling, Rayquan Evans gave FSU a lift off the bench midway through the second, as consecutive layups on strong moves to the basket gave the Seminoles a 39-37 lead. After AP split a pair of free throws, Evans hit a streaking Vassell on the fast-break for a two-handed slam, pushing the lead out to three.

The next possession, Evans got into the lane, once again, this time drawing a foul. The JUCO transfer made both, giving Florida State its largest lead at 43-38. Williams then made a pair, as well, and the FSU lead was suddenly seven.

However, the Seminoles couldn’t step on the throat. Despite getting several live-ball turnovers, the ‘Noles couldn’t convert. Some of it was sloppy transition execution, some of it were some unlucky bounces, or refs who were suddenly whistle-happy in one direction. Regardless, the result was a tenuous 45-42 lead at the eight minute mark.

RaiQuan Gray, playing well for a third consecutive game, made an offensive rebound put-back to push the lead back up to five at 47-42. Then, following a strong take to the rim by Vassell that resulted in a (curious-at-best) no call, the sophomore found Malik Osborne on the next trip down for a three-pointer that put FSU up 50-42. Osborne followed with a nice reverse layup on the next possession, stretching the lead to double-digits for the first time.

But UNC—and the random stoppages in play—wouldn’t go away. Justin Pierce hit a three to cut FSU’s lead to 52-47. The ‘Noles pushed it back out to 57-49 on a pair of free throws by Gray, but a Leaky Black jumper cut it back to six. Two more freebies, this time from Williams, gave FSU a 59-51 lead with 90 seconds remaining, however a Christian Keeling three-point-play brought UNC to within five with 1:12 left in the game.

UNC decided to press, but FSU broke it easily, allowing Vassell to throw down another two-handed dunk. However, Keeling drained another jumper—this time a three—and the Seminoles lead was now just four. But FSU stayed calm, made free throws, and were able to close out the visitors from Tobacco Road.

For the game, FSU limited UNC to just 21-68 (30.9%) from the field. FSU didn’t exactly scorch the nets, going just 23-55 (41.8%) overall, including a dismal 4-15 (26.7%) from three, but the ‘Noles were still able to manufacture enough points from a variety of sources to get yet another home win. Forrest and Williams paced FSU with 14 points apiece, and the balanced Seminoles got at least six points from six different players. Anthony led UNC with 16, but it was the definition of inefficient, shooting just 5-22 from the field (he missed his final 12 attempts).

Florida State now gets a long week at home before welcoming the Hurricanes from Miami to Tallahassee on Saturday.

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