FSU’s big lead slips away in mistake-filled second half

Florida State’s 16-point first-half lead slipped away in a turnover-plagued, cold-shooting second half.

RaiQuan Gray scored 17 points and pulled down eight rebounds and M.J. Walker scored his 1,000th point but the Seminoles were flat to open the second half and the Tar Heels took a 78-70 win on Saturday. It was Gray’s 10th straight game scoring in double figures.

FSU (14-4, 10-3 ACC) struggled in the final 20 minutes, turning it over 12 times. The Seminoles will now need to win its final two games to wrap up the ACC regular-season title.

“They did to us what normally we’ve been doing to other people,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “They had an excellent game plan defensively, they were extremely aggressive. They were so aggressive that I thought it creates indecision on some of our parts. And sometimes you just got to give teams credit — it’s not as much about what you didn’t do, it’s what they did. Today we got outplayed by a team that really, I thought, executed their game plan a lot better than we executed. We didn’t take care of the ball, and we normally do. We didn’t hit our free throws, and we normally do.”

Walker Kessler, a 7-foot-1 center, had 20 points and eight rebounds for UNC (15-7, 9-5). The Tar Heels won the rebounding battle 44-36 and had 20 offensive rebounds.

“It’s energy-draining when a team gets a lot of offensive rebounds so you have to keep working and keep working and fight to get back in a game,” guard Scottie Barnes said.

UNC coach Roy Williams picked up his 900th career win.

FSU led 39-23 with 2:31 left in the first half on a Walker jump shot, and Hamilton pointed to early deflections and steals in helping the Seminoles generate offense. But the lead quickly slipped away in the second half.

“Coming out of halftime, they came out with more energy, they were being tougher,” Barnes said.

Turnovers, poor shooting a 5-of-11 performance from the free-throw line in the final 20 minutes allowed UNC to stay in front.

“We had one stretch I think we might have turned the ball over eight or nine times in almost 10,11 possessions,” Hamilton said. “That was because of their pressure. They cut the lead down and it was very difficult for us to catch back up.”

Barnes had 11 points, six rebounds and six steals. Anthony Polite scored 10 points.

Walker returned after missing the Miami game. He started, scoring nine points and adding three steals and two rebounds.

FSU shot 15 of 33 (45.5 percent) in the first half but only 11 of 34 (32.4 percent) in the second half. The Seminoles also shot just 5 of 17 from 3-point range for the game.

Hamilton said Walker, Malik Osborne and Tanor Ngom didn’t practice much in the days leading up to the UNC game. He underscored that it’s not an excuse.

“We didn’t know that they were going to play all until today,” Hamilton said. “We were a little bit out of sync. MJ hadn’t practiced all week. Neither did Malik. And neither did Tanor. And those three guys, they’ve been out for the last three, four, five days. And we were not quite as sharp. They weren’t quite as sharp as they normally would have been. Those things happen. You don’t use that as an excuse. … North Carolina was the reason we were out of rhythm today. They just did a much better job of being North Carolina than we did of being FSU.”

Box score

The FSU-UNC box score can be viewed here.

Up next

FSU plays its final home game on Wednesday against Boston College at 9 p.m. (ACC Network). The Seminoles will then finish at Notre Dame on March 6.