By Doc Kennedy
Playing at Florida State is like a trip to the dentist. You have to go periodically; it’s not enjoyable, you’ve had some bad experiences, and you just hope to get out of there without some bad news. Carolina headed to Tallahassee on Monday night for an all-loss, no-win game in which a victory did little to solidify their place on the right side of the bubble, but a defeat at the 9–20 Seminoles would just about doom their NCAA tournament chances.
The Tar Heels responded with another white-hot first-half shooting performance and then endured a white-knuckle period late in the game before getting out of town with a 77–66 win. The gang that couldn’t shoot straight just a week ago (remember 8% from three against Notre Dame?) followed up a 10 3-pointer effort against Virginia with 14 against the Noles and, for the first time in UNC history, four players hit three or more three-pointers, as Leaky Black, Pete Nance, RJ Davis and Caleb Love each hit three times from distance.
With that in mind, here is the “hope stays alive” edition of the Good, Bad, and Ugly Report:
Black matched his career high with 18 points, none more vital than the pump fake and dunk when FSU had cut the lead to four and UNC fans were sweating. Black also just missed a double-double with nine boards and was 3 of 4 from three. Leaky being a viable shooter completely changes how teams can play defense against the Heels.
Though he only shot 3 of 10 from the floor, Nance showed his touch from three against Virginia wasn’t a fluke, going 3 of 6 from distance and adding 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. Nance logged key minutes in the post with Armando Bacot in foul trouble and showed the versatility Carolina hoped for when he came to Chapel Hill from Northwestern.
Second-half shooting woes
For the second straight game, after a blistering first half, the Tar Heels came back to Earth with a poor second-half shooting performance. The Heels only shot 34% from the floor and 27% from three in the final 20 minutes and were staggering before Leaky’s emphatic rally-ending slam. UNC can’t keep relying on those kind of first-half efforts to build leads if they’re going to go ice-cold in the second half.
Armando Bacot’s ACC POY hopes
Armando Bacot’s ACC POY hopes
Just two weeks ago, the senior center was the presumptive ACC Player of the Year. But a string of sub-par performances may have him dropping off writers’ ballots like an 8:00 a.m. French class at drop/add. While Bacot had eight rebounds, he was in early foul trouble (again), was limited to just 21 minutes and scored his only point of the game in the last 30 seconds. While it was great to see the Heels win a game without a significant contribution from Bacot, this is not going to be sustainable down the stretch if Carolina wants to make a push for the postseason.
So now UNC will get to watch the bracket shenanigans between now and the Duke game this weekend. Most pundits have declared the game vs. the Blue Devils as a must-win to move the Tar Heels closer to being safely in the field of 68 and not having to sweat out Selection Sunday. While Carolina has (at least for two games) found its outside shooting groove, it will need all cylinders to beat a Duke team that has been playing well in February. Does UNC have another March run in the tank? UNC fans hope so but are not sure their heart can take it.
Doc Kennedy is an alum and longtime UNC fan, and a former high school and college basketball coach who wrote this report for years on Tar Heel Blog.
Photo via @UNC_Basketball