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Florida State loses a heart-breaker against North Carolina Saturday afternoon

FSU battled hard, but UNC became to much down the stretch as the ‘Noles tournament chances take a substantial hit

Peyton Baker/Tomahawk Nation

Florida State took on top-five-ranked North Carolina Saturday afternoon, looking for a victory to jump-start its tournament hopes.

First Half:

The game plan started and ended for Florida State by containing the R.J. Davis and Armando Bacot two-man game. Davis came into the day averaging over 20 points a game, while Bacot has been a monster on the glass, registering over ten rebounds. The duo deferred to their teammates early but destroyed Florida State on the glass, grabbing three offensive rebounds before the under-16 timeout. Their ability to get inside the paint led to open 3s, and the Tar Heels took advantage. UNC splashed four consecutive long bombs to extend their lead to eight at the first T.V. timeout. The Tar Heels then changed their game plan again and started springing out in transition. Armando Bacot flew down the lane and finished an old-fashioned three-point play. R.J. turned a turnover into points, and a Cam Cohren foul off a UNC missed transition shot put UNC back at the FT line. UNC got Florida State into the penalty early, as they shot a 1-and-1 from the 10-minute mark on.

However, once the Seminoles started hitting shots, they picked up the defensive intensity. Davis and Bacot’s brilliance extended the UNC lead, but FSU contested each attempt and began to make every possession difficult for the Heels. The Florida State D collapsed hard on Armando Bacot and forced an unusual turnover from the senior later in the first half. Life continued to be difficult for North Carolina as De’Ante Green and Armondo Bacot went chest to chest after battling for a rebound. The big man went to the line on the ensuing possession as he finally got his long-awaited foul call but missed the front end of a 1 and 1, which led to a Darin Green jumper. The Seminole intensity paid off as UNC needed a timeout to inbound the ball after the under-4 and forced a UNC turnover on three of their next four trips down the floor. UNC stabilized their offense to end the half by doing what they do best: crashing the glass and getting to the FT line. The Tar Heels shot four free throws in the final 90 seconds of the half and grabbed three offensive rebounds.

Florida State caused 12 turnovers in the first half as their length and intensity frustrated Hubert Davis’ team. R.J. Davis led the way with 10 points at the half but did most of his damage at the beginning of the game.

Offensively, the Seminoles started sluggishly. Jamir Watkins turned the ball over on the first possession of the game. Watkins then got blocked by Bacot on the other end, and FSU went 2:30 without a point before Baba Miller splashed a 3. UNC called an early timeout after the bucket, and an electrified home crowd finally had something to cheer about. The Green ‘brothers’ each took a deep shot on ensuing possessions, going 50% and keeping the game close. Armando Bacot seemed to deter many of the Seminoles' drives inside, and the ‘Noles looked to use their dribble penetration to create open shots. After back-to-back possessions with a shot clock violation and airball, the Seminoles let their best scorers take over. Jamir Watkins drained a transition three, Primo Spears layed in a transition lay-up, and an offensive rebound brought the lead down to 4. The Georgetown transfer continued his hot start, swerving through screens and taking advantage of Bacot in drop coverage. He knocked down his signature mid-range shot quickly after the under-12 T.O. and helped limit the effect of Watkins on the bench. Spears’ shot-making kept the Seminoles in the game, and he assisted on a Chandler Jackson 3 to keep the Tar Heel lead at four going into the under-8 T.O.

Once Watkins took his breather, he immediately went back to work. The VCU transfer backed down Cadeau and banked in a lay-up plus the foul for a three-point play. He returned to the charity stripe on the next possession, drawing a foul on Bacot, although he went 1-2 from the line. Then FSU started to get out in transition and changed the tide for the ‘Noles. Right before the under-4, T.O. Green sprinted to the paint and knocked down an 8-foot fall-away jumper. A Primo Spears 3 almost took the roof off the Tucker center the following possession and tied up the game. Right after the T.V. timeout, Primo Spears drove into the lane and kicked the ball out to Watkins, who drained a three and gave the ‘Noles their first lead of the game. Primo Spears decided he wanted a bucket of his own and knocked down a bomb right next to the Carolina bench to put FSU up six.

Florida State finished the first half shooting 7/12 on 3s and getting assists on seven made baskets. Primo Spears and Jamir Watkins catalyzed the offense and led FSU, which took a five-point lead at the break.

Second half:

UNC finished the first half with only seven points in the final six minutes, and their offense needed a spark. They immediately ran a set three-point play for Comrac Ryan, and a Bacot offensive rebound gave UNC an extra possession, and they converted for two. The Tar Heels knocked down their next four shots as Ryan knocked down back-to-back 3s, and Davis sprinted in transition to tie the game up at 48. The Tar Heels began to find a rhythm as their guards quickly got inside the paint and generated open threes. The beginning of the first half looked like the beginning of the second, as UNC drew five team fouls against FSU in the first five minutes and went 3/5 from deep. Their hot start continued after the under-16 as UNC found space in the lane and knocked down three straight lay-ups to go up by six. UNC continued to draw contact and go inside, which led to the Tar Heels going an efficient 9-11 for the first eight minutes of the half and 4-4 from the FT line. After the under-12, the foul-a-thon continued, and UNC drew Watkins’ fourth while converting from the line once more.

However, FSU’s defense began to settle in and slowed the UNC pace as the Tar Heels went 1-8 from the floor before the under-8, but Florida State could not keep North Carolina off the glass and paid the price. Cormac Ryan had back-to-back looks at a three after an offensive rebound and nailed the second attempt to steal back momentum. FSU’s defense made life hard on the Tar Heels as they generated a travel and difficult step-back to bring the game within three. However, UNC is ranked #3 for a reason and generated enough offense inside the paint to keep the Seminoles at arm’s length just before the under-4 media timeout. Every Tar Heel possession became a blood-bath down the stretch. Every rebound had multiple bodies hitting the floor, and physical play became not just expected but a necessity. More bodies were on the floor than standing at one point, as every loose ball became a referendum on who wanted it more. North Carolina wanted to slow the game down after the media timeout, leading to the physical nature of play. The molasses-like nature of their game resulted in a step-back, R.J. Davis 3, that brought the game within two with less than two minutes to go. The Tar Heels continued to settle for contested shots late in the shot clock and went 3:30 without a point until the:44 mark when R.J. Davis proved why he should be the Naismith award winner. He hit a fallaway bucket and knocked down three straight free throws to put UNC up by Tar Heels 7.

Offensively, the Seminoles caught fire to end the first half and looked for consistency to begin the second. Green knocked down a fall-away jumper on the baseline for the Seminole’s first bucket of the half and then knocked down a transition three 20 seconds later to put the ‘Noles up 8. FSU continued to force the action inside as Warley backed down his defender to answer the early UNC offense and then went back to work in the post to respond when the Tar Heels tied the game. The Seminoles started the second half 5-7 at the first media timeout to try and remedy the early North Carolina barrage. Once UNC sprinted to a six-point lead, the Seminoles’ offense went stagnant, forcing Leonard Hamilton to call a timeout seven minutes into the second. Baba Miller drew a foul on R.J. Davis but missed both free throws, and the Seminole’s scoreless streak swelled to 3:01 before Cam Cohren dunked the ball off his miss. Soon after the under-12, Watkins picked up his fourth foul, and the Seminoles needed to find offense without him. It was not easy as FSU rotated between contested post-ups, difficult mid-range jumpers, or missed free throws. Primo Spears splashed another three to not let the game get out of hand, and Warley drew a foul to keep the game close as the game reached the under-8 mark. Chandler Jackson provided solid minutes off the bench, knocking in two baskets inside the paint to give FSU life as the game went down the stretch. Leonard Hamilton had no choice but to put Watkins back in the game with five minutes left, and he instantly provided a spark by drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line. He kicked out a pass right after the final media timeout, which led to Chandler Jackson getting an open shot and getting to the line after he followed his miss. Primo Spears looked like prime Trey Burke off a steal and score to bring the game within two, and the roof almost came off for a second time today. However, a couple of missed shots and unforced turnovers down the stretch led to a 2:36 scoreless drought to end the game.

Box score and takeaways:

The Noles fought their hearts out, and that one hurts. They had multiple chances down by two at the end of the game to tie or take the lead but just could not put together a high-quality possession when they needed to.

Saturday became not just a physical game but a borderline boxing ring. FSU battled on the boards with UNC all afternoon, hindering some of their early success later in the game. The Seminole defense came alive at the end of the second half as they forced UNC to shoot 1-7 to end the game. Of course, the one bucket came from R.J. Davis, who put up 24 points, and the Seminoles could not answer all night. That basket put North Carolina up by four and highlighted the ‘Noles offensive struggles. Florida State struggled in the second half, shooting 2-8 from 3 after finishing the first half 7-12. Their shooting woes continued at the free throw line as the Seminoles did what they had done all year and missed shots from the charity stripe as they went 3-8 in the second half. Jamir Watkins had to sit for almost seven minutes after picking up his fourth foul, and Florida State could not quite regain the rhythm they had at the end of the first half. As a fan just chirped at the media booth as he walked by, “It’s a simple column tonight, fellas. They fought hard, but they might want to make some free throws.”

Could not have said it any better.

Looking ahead, Florida State takes in lowly Louisville next Saturday in Kentucky. The week off will do them well after a physical affair on Saturday.