It took a total team effort to hold off furious Florida State.
Excepting a Duke game, the atmosphere in the Smith Center Saturday might have been the best ever. Complete sell out, crowd screaming from the opening tip – beautiful, Roy Williams called it – and the Tar Heels manning up everywhere to deal the ninth-ranked Seminoles their first ACC loss and halt their 12-game winning streak.
Dean Smith used to say that good teams will band together and make up for the absence of a key player, and Carolina certainly did that while freshman big man Tony Bradley watched from the bench with a concussion. Despite foul trouble for the three remaining post men, Williams substituted brilliantly and fourth “big” Luke Maye pulled down 15 rebounds in the 96-83 victory.
Even the most casual Tar Heel fan had to notice the weird combinations Ol’ Roy was deploying to steal some minutes and keep his big guys from fouling out. One lineup had Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson inside, which Williams said was a first in his almost 30 years of head coaching. Pinson continues to make an impact in his return to action, with his 12-10 double-double highlighted by his high speed, down-the-lane monster jam that busted the crowd noise meter. The alt-lineup worked so well that Kennedy Meeks sat on his big rump for most of the second half with four fouls and never got back on the floor, finishing with 6 and 6 in 13 minutes.
Carolina can’t win a big-time game without Jackson and Joel Berry delivering and they were Fed-Ex, UPS and Overnight Mail combined, JJ getting 22 points and Berry 26 that included six three-pointers between them. Plus, Isaiah Hicks dropped in a cool 22, with 12 coming from the foul line where the Heels basically won the game because the clanging ‘Noles missed 14 of their 26 free throws.
Maye, whom Williams says has one of those rare noses for the ball, battled relentlessly for his 15 boards and got a couple tapping out offensive rebounds, an old Tar Heel tradition he has watched all his life. He helped send the Seminoles, deep and talented, back to Tallahassee in defeat on a day to remember in Chapel Hill.