They won’t all be Picassos. But in a 31-game season, take it game by game.
That’s what No. 8 Florida State did in a grityy, low-scoring 65-59 win over North Carolina on Monday night. With only one full day of rest after playing in Blacksburg, Va., odds were good the Seminoles shooting legs would be a bit heavy, as were UNC’s after playing Boston College on Saturday. Neither team put on an offensive clinic, yet FSU is 19-3 (9-2 ACC) and the train is still rolling. Here’s how:
It was fantastic all evening. The half court effort was some of the best the team turned in this season. FSU didn’t force many turnovers in this one (only nine, 13% of possessions, per KenPom), but the switching and communication was strong. The Seminoles are used to turning teams over at a high clip, about 26% of total possessions, which was good for 5th in the NCAA coming in to the game, per KenPom. But holding UNC to just 31% shooting and a strong effort on the glass helped FSU hold serve at home.
“When we focus it’s what Coach Ham’s defense is designed to do,” Trent Forrest said. “It puts the shot clock on your back and forces you to take even worse shots. We locked in for 40 minutes.”
A large part of the equation was guarding Cole Anthony beautifully all evening. The future NBA lottery pick was held to 5 of 22 shooting on the night and missed his last 12 shots from the field. Anthony looked rusty in only his second game back from injury, but the length and athleticism of FSU clearly bothered him. The Tar Heels missed 17 straight shots at one point in the game and went on a near 10-minutes scoreles streak. For the year it was Carolina’s third-worst offensive performance with Anthony healthy and in the lineup.
“It says a lot about us being locked in,” Leonard Hamilton said on his team’s defensive effort on Anthony. “That makes a huge difference in a game that’s decided by just a few points.”
Maybe it was the Tar Heel Blue from his home state, maybe it was the higher tempo affair that suits his game a little better. Whatever it was, the freshman was sensational for Florida State against UNC. Williams was active on the glass, attacking the rim and hitting shots from beyond the arc. He finished with 14 points and 9 rebounds on an efficient 3 of 4 shooting. He was clutch down the stretch for the Seminoles going 6 for 6 from the free-throw line as FSU closed the game. Williams met with the media for the first time this season and discussed his growing confidence to assert himself offensively.
“I’ve got more comfortable with it. It comes with experience, you can’t just come into the ACC and do what you did in high school,” Williams said.
“I focused on my defense first (when I got here). My teammates and coaches give me confidence because they know I’m talented so as the season goes on I think I’ll get more comfortable with that. It’s coming, slowly but surely.”
If the freshman plays at this level on a consistence basis, the Seminoles have a chance to do some special things in March.
“He’s so humble that I have to remind him who he is and how good he really is,” Forrest added on the star freshman. “He doesn’t love to hear people talk about but I tell him all the time. The more he plays the better and better he’s going to be.”
Cleaning the glass
Under Roy Williams, North Carolina will always try to win at the rim. They rebound on both ends of the floor at elite levels and play with tremendous energy from their posts. Florida State was outstanding on the glass, winning the rebound battle 43-37 and limiting the Tar Heels to just 14 offensive rebounds on 47 missed shots (30%). Even with their offensive struggles this season, the Heels have relied on second-chance points but they only got eight against FSU. Additionally, the Seminoles blocked 10 shots in the game, consistently making life at the rim miserable for the visitors from Chapel Hill. For the season, FSU is No. 1 in the country, per KenPom, in blocking shots (17.6%). Williams’ health no doubt helps the team at the rim, but the guards are elite at rejecting shots as well, which makes up for FSU’s lesser usage of the 7-footers they usually give significant minutes in past seasons.
“These guys play unselfishly and they defend. They play hard and are connected, they cheer for each other. They realize we have a unique opportunity,” Hamilton said.
“We’re in a place that not many Florida State teams have been in this time of year. They understand that to maintain this consistency in this position, you get everyone’s best shot.”