“That was about as bizarre of a game I’ve ever been involved with early – nothing we did was very good. But our guys just sort of hung in there.”
The Tar Heels had fallen behind 17-4 in Tallahassee. The hungry Seminoles were stalking their prey and tasted blood. The rallying cry had been heard by all in attendance at the Donald L. Tucker Center Monday night.
And be honest with yourself: you counted Carolina out. Heck, I sure did. And why wouldn’t we? It was the perfect storm with all the ingredients in place for a Tar Heel thud:
1) Florida State is a handful at home. Just look at the heroics UNC has needed the last five or six years to escape Tally unscathed. And although the Noles had struggled mightily of late, this was a prime chance for them to claim the marquee win they needed to catch the eye of the NCAA Selection Committee.
2) The roaring start. FSU Head Coach Leonard Hamilton couldn’t have drawn it up any better. The Seminoles were getting the shots they wanted. They were active on the glass, outrebounding Carolina, and working the zone defense to perfection. And yes, that all amounted to a 17-4 cushion.
3) McAdoo removal. James Michael McAdoo, the same one that scored 24 points and collected 12 rebounds versus Pitt the game before, was held scoreless. Yes, completely scoreless. The fouls rendered him obsolete early on as the bench became his vantage point in the FSU contest. Would anybody bet on UNC if they knew McAdoo was not going to play? That’s what I thought. Not even the longest Vegas odds would have enticed me to lay any bucks on that one.
But against all odds, North Carolina found a way to weather the storm battling on with gritty standout performances from two mercurial players: Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson.
Roy’s prayer was answered. Two days earlier, after the Pitt victory, Coach Williams said he needed other guys to step up and help support McAdoo and Marcus Paige.
Well, the team responded, especially Meeks and Johnson. Someone had to step up with McAdoo completely taken out of the game by the whistle. And boy did Meeks answer the bell. He put up 23 points, a career high, with some fierce play around the rim.
As for Johnson, he provided the electric spark that fueled an incredible and improbable Tar Heel turnaround and ultimately ended in an 81-75 escape for the ages. No joke. This is not hyperbole.
The crowd was against them. The officials were trigger happy. All they had to rely on were themselves, but on this Monday night, that was all they needed. They locked in defensively. Game on. They seemed to relish the challenge set before them.
This team is growing up before our eyes. The offensive pieces are coming together at just the right time. Duke looms on Thursday, but for now we should all sit back and appreciate the battling Tar Heels who are finding ways to persevere and win. Regardless of the outcome in the next installment of the Tobacco Road Rivalry, one thing has become increasingly clear: this seven-game winning streak is no fluke.
No sir. Carolina has earned every one of those wins, however ugly some of them may have been at the time. But ACC wins are hard to come by, period. Stringing together seven ACC wins in a row? Now that is a real accomplishment.
But no victory so far has tasted quite as sweet as the Tallahassee fight back. Remember this one, folks. The competitive fire is burning. All the elements were stacked against them. The supplies were running out. The winds were roaring. The waters were rising. But the Tar Heels did it. They weathered the perfect storm.