“That Was a Man’s Night”: Johnson Leads No. 6 UNC Past FSU

Throughout his career in Chapel Hill senior forward Brice Johnson has shown flashes of greatness, but struggled with inconsistency.

On Monday night in Tallahassee, Johnson finally showed what it looks like when everything is clicking—tallying 39 points and 23 rebounds to lead the No. 6 Tar Heels past the Florida State Seminoles 106-90.

Both numbers were career-highs for the senior from Orangeburg, South Carolina, who combined with his roommate, Marcus Paige, to propel UNC’s record to 14-2 and 3-0 in the ACC.

Johnson (right) and Justin Jackson (left) corral FSU freshman Dwayne Bacon at the rim. (AP Photo/ Mark Wallheiser)

Johnson (right) and Justin Jackson (left) corral FSU freshman Dwayne Bacon at the rim. (AP Photo/ Mark Wallheiser)

On any other night Paige’s 30 points—or the fact that the pair became the first set of Tar Heel teammates since 1998 to each score that many—would dominate the headlines.

But Johnson’s performance was arguably the best by a UNC player in the Roy Williams era, coming up just one point and one rebound shy of tying the single-game school records for each statistic since the head coach arrived in 2003.

“Brice Johnson was off the charts,” Williams said after the game. “I’ve been on his case for four years, but 39 points, 23 rebounds—that was a man’s night.”

Locked in an up-and-down game with the Seminoles—who now drop to 10-4 and 0-2 in conference play—Johnson scored 28 of his points in the second half.

Florida State sophomore guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes hit seven three-pointers on his way to 30 points, but only one of those came in the final 17 minutes—while Johnson wreaked havoc by finding ways to create easy buckets against a Seminole frontcourt possessing two players at least 7-foot-3.

“When [our guards] would get in the lane, the big guys would help up thinking [they] were gonna shoot a floater—then they’d just dump it off to me,” Johnson said.

“In the right place, at the right time,” he continued. “That’s the one thing I’ve learned being here is if the guard comes in the lane, just back up a little bit into the short corner.

“And then hopefully there’s a shot, or if something comes off the rim I get the rebound and the score.”

Only Joel Berry, with 12 points, joined Johnson and Paige in double figures as the Tar Heels broke the century mark for the first time all season—putting it into perspective how dominant the two seniors were against a talented, but young, Seminole team.

“To be a really good team, I’ve said this many times, we need to be able to win in the 50’s and 60’s,” Williams said about the scoring outburst. “But I like it a lot better when it’s in the 80’s and 90’s—or 100.

“I think those are more enjoyable games to watch,” he added. “There’s more plays, more causes for heart attacks for the coach I guess. But I like that tempo of the game.”

Roy Williams said Johnson's game was among the best he'd ever seen. (AP Photo/ Mark Wallheiser)

Roy Williams said Johnson’s game was among the best he’d ever seen. (AP Photo/ Mark Wallheiser)

In the seven-game winning streak since Kennedy Meeks went down with a knee injury, Johnson has averaged 21 points per game and become the team’s leading scorer.

However, he had arguably one of the worst games of his career less than a week ago against Clemson—putting up just three points while dealing with foul trouble throughout.

It’s that kind of unpredictability that has made him a constant lightning rod for criticism from Williams.

“This is about as good [a performance] as any I’ve ever seen—particularly on the road,” the coach said. “Especially for Brice, because I have to stay on his case–and Kennedy’s case–so much because their effort’s gotta be at a higher level and be more consistent.

“But it was there tonight,” he added.

Because of that relationship, one with a similar dynamic to how Johnson was treated by his father—also his high school coach—it’s not surprising to hear Williams’ explanation of how this career night came to life.

“The stars and the moon were aligned properly,” he said. “That’s probably what it was.”

Up Next:

Coming off its first true road win of the season, UNC will try again to complete the feat on Saturday, when they go the Carrier Dome to take on the Syracuse Orange–who will be welcoming back Hall-of-Fame coach Jim Boeheim from a nine-game suspension.

Game Notes:

  • Only Harrison Barnes and Tyler Hansbrough have scored more points in a game (each had 40) since Williams took over as head coach. Only Sean May (24) has had more rebounds in that time span.
  • Johnson shot 14-of-16 from the floor. His 14 field goals were also the most in the Williams era (May and Hansbrough each had 13 on two separate occasions).
  • Johnson and Paige became the first UNC teammates since Antawn Jamison and Shammond Williams to each score 30 in the same game.
  • Both the 39 points and 23 rebounds were all-time records at the Tucker Center, Florida State’s home arena.
  • Previously, Johnson’s career-bests were 27 points and 18 rebounds.




ACC Baseball Tournament: Bats Fall Flat, Tar Heels Downed by No. 13 FSU

Led by a solid effort on the mound from junior Mike Compton, the No. 13 Florida State Seminoles cruised to an 8-4 victory over the UNC baseball team on Thursday night at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

With their second straight loss in pool play, the Tar Heels (33-24, 14-18) are eliminated from contention for the conference crown.

The Seminoles (40-19, 19-13) are now in position to advance to Sunday’s ACC Championship Game thanks to 5.2 stellar innings from Compton (4-3), who gave up just two runs on five hits. Florida State defeated Clemson on Wednesday and is now 2-0 in the tournament.

DJ Stewart and the Seminole offense picked up four runs against Trent Thornton in the first three innings, while their pitching staff kept Carolina in check. (Liz Condo, theACC.com)

DJ Stewart (8) and the Seminole offense picked up four runs against Trent Thornton in the first three innings, while their pitching staff kept Carolina in check. (Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Carolina’s offense–which has consistently been the team’s Achilles’ Heel this season–picked up just one hit through the first five innings.

Throughout that time period Compton shut them down with fantastic control of all his pitches.

“[Compton’s] good. He’s really good,” UNC head coach Mike Fox said. “I mean, Florida State’s always had pitchers that pound the strike zone. If you look at the box score that’s the difference in the game I think. We walk one time, they walk eight.”

Tar Heel Right fielder Tyler Ramirez finally sparked some life into the largely pro-UNC crowd when he hit a triple to kick start a two-run sixth frame capped by RBIs from Alex Raburn and Korey Dunbar.

They added two more tallies on Brian Miller’s two-run single in the bottom of the ninth, but by then it was too little, too late–as Florida State preceded that by putting up three runs in the eighth against the UNC bullpen.

Trent Thornton was up and down for the Tar Heels in his first start since March. (Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Trent Thornton was up and down for the Tar Heels in his first start since March. (Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Junior Trent Thornton (3-7) made the start for UNC and looked impressive, going 5.1 innings on his way to a career-high 10 strikeouts. He surrendered five runs though, four of which came in the first three innings–as the strong Seminole lineup made thunderous contact on the pitches they did connect with.

“It took a little bit for me to get in a groove, but it came down to making pitches in big situations that I wasn’t able to do tonight,” Thornton said. “And that was the difference in the game.”

Florida State outfielders Josh Delph and Ben DeLuzio each had three hits and combined to drive in four of the Seminoles’ eight runs to lead the Seminole offensive charge.

Although the Tar Heels have been knocked out of championship contention, they still have one more game to play as pool play finishes up in Durham.

“Tomorrow means a whole lot to us, the way I think we have to look at it,” Coach Fox said after the game. “I have no idea about what the [NCAA Selection Committee] is thinking or any of that, but I think it’s very important for us to win our last game before the NCAA tournament. If nothing else, just to have a win.”


Up Next:

The Clemson Tigers (32-26, 17-15) will be their opponent, with first pitch set for 3 p.m.

The Tigers took two of three games from UNC in their series earlier this season, which was played at Clemson.

Game Notes:

  • UNC falls to 1-10 all time against Florida State in the ACC Tournament.
  • The Tar Heel pitchers combined to strike out 17 Seminoles in the game.
  • First Team All-ACC outfielder DJ Stewart went 1-5 for Florida State, striking out twice against Trent Thornton.
  • Landon Lassiter picked up the first hit of the night for the Tar Heels in the fourth inning, when he tripled out to right field.



Oakes’ Outlook: Greensboro Games

It’s that time of the year. A return to Tournament Town. My drive down I-40 was met with springtime sunshine filtering through a thin layer of wispy clouds. I pumped out some country songs on the local radio station.

Driving past Stamey’s BBQ and the Natty Greene’s beer garden across the street, I knew I was in the right place.

I pulled into the Coliseum parking lot and was greeted with a live golden oldies concert in full swing on the Fan Fest stage. Fans decked out in red, garnet, orange and Carolina blue bustled about. This was 11 a.m. mind you. Anticipation was in the air. Everything felt right.

Perhaps its the purist in me, but it’s too bad the Tournament will depart for its northern tour next year. Sweet tea. Hospitality. Warm weather. This is ACC country. The Barclays Center in New York? Eh. Not so much.

Photo courtesy of axs.com

Photo courtesy of axs.com

So I’ll try to savor my time down south even more this year. We won’t get another southern swing until 2019 in Charlotte and 2020 back here in Greensboro.

But the spotlight should be on the hoops. That’s why we’re all here after all. Big-time contests in the nation’s premier college basketball conference are on tap. For some, the stay in Greensboro ends. But for the lucky ones, the trip continues.

TEAM OF THE DAY: North Carolina. Paige seems healthy. Tokoto is dialed in on defense. The Heels look formidable. Of course, that could all change in a hurry tomorrow.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.” – FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton. Well said, Coach. Well said.

GAME ONE: No. 9 FSU vs. No. 8 Clemson (12 p.m. tip)

First of all, let’s get this straight FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton is the definition of cool. You can’t outcool the King of Cool. He stands on the sidelines, expressionless, one hand in pocket. Sometimes, I wonder what he’s thinking. ‘What am I going to have for dinner? How did we turn the ball over there? I swear, if I have to say something to one of my guys…’

We may never know…but the action on the hardwood was heating up to keep me distracted any way. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who scored like 30 points in four minutes a few weeks back, was back to his usual tricks, bursting out of the gate for nine points in the first nine minutes.

Another storied ACC tradition continued with a strange twist. The world-famous FSU Golden Girls returned to the Coliseum floor…WITH PANTS. Many folks in attendance were severely disappointed.

Clemson, meanwhile, struggled to find any semblance of an offense for large stretches of the fist half, but as it turned it, only trailed by a mere seven points at the half.

FSU has a special weapon in Xavier Rathan-Mayes (NoledOut.com).

Out of the locker room, it was the FSU perimeter shooting that came to life, giving the Noles some separation from the Tigers at 44-33 with 15:28 to play.

In a touching timeout tribute, a military veteran and his family were recognized at midcourt. He received a standing ovation and then received keys to a new home. Pretty cool stuff!

Back to hoops. The game dragged on for well over two hours and twenty minutes. The last five minutes seemed to last for an eternity. No joke. Timeouts were pulled out of their holsters. The Seminoles, though, despite a serious effort down the stretch to do otherwise, were able to hang on and take the matinee opener, 76-73. XRM finished with 30 points.

GAME TWO: No. 5 UNC vs. No. 12 BC (2 p.m. tip…yeah, about that.)

A Marcus Paige three gave UNC its first lead. The crowd erupted.

The Tar Heels, getting offensive production early and often from a smorgasbord of players, set a quick tempo early on. That’s always to Carolina’s liking.

The Eagles were no doubt motivated to prove a point. They were riding a four-game winning streak into this one after all.

Marcus Paige for three! (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige for three! (Todd Melet)

The all-important ‘points in the paint’ stat was dominated by UNC in the first half with a 20-8 edge.

In a surprising move, Stilman White was even thrown into the fray by Roy Williams, receiving his first meaningful minutes since…well…the Elite Eight a few years back.

Carolina got out in transition. That helped. The Tar Heels also fought relentlessly for second chance opportunities. They converted on a ton of them and were rewarded with a 43-30 halftime lead.

Out of the second half gates, Carolina continued to coast. Nate Britt showed comfort with his shot. Jackson Simmons contributed a beautiful ball screen. Roy continued to toy with his lineup.

The biggest surprise of the game was the relative silence of BC star Olivier Hanlan, at least for the majority of it. After dropping 25 points in the first round, the junior misfired a bit Wednesday, especially from behind the arc. A lot f that had to do with J.P. Tokoto’s fine defense.

Roy Williams called Tokoto the ‘riverboat gambler’ in his postgame press conference. Well, the gamble paid off on this day.

Follow Matt on Twitter @moakes3


Gray Leads Victory Over FSU in Late Scoring Spree

In what many would call an upset victory, No. 17 North Carolina women’s basketball knocked down No. 7 Florida State Thursday night in Carmichael Arena, 71-63.

The Tar Heels have now clinched their twentieth win this season with only five losses. They are now 7-4 in the ACC while the Seminoles have dropped to 9-2 in the conference and 22-3 overall.

In a game of six ties and lead changes, a high-intensity battle broke out between the Seminoles and the Tar Heels. Neither team could manage a large lead for more than a few seconds, and the fast and up-tempo possessions proved both teams were fighting for the crown of the conference.

For North Carolina, junior Hillary Summers found herself in a rhythm and ended up with a career-high nine points and seven rebounds. Senior Brittany Rountree added 10 alongside sophomore Stephanie Mavunga, who finished with 11 points but was stifled under the basket by the likes of FSU’s big men.

Sophomore Ivey Slaughter posted a game-high 15 points and eight rebounds while only playing 18 minutes. Reigning ACC and ESPNW Player of the Week Adut Bulgak was held to an unusually low 9 points before fouling out with less than a minute remaining. Bulgak had 13 rebounds.

Florida State went on a 17-6 run to close the half with a seven-point lead at 34-27. But after the break, the game was all Allisha Gray. She scored 18 of her 22 points and her steal and acrobatic bucket with 53 seconds left sealed the win for Carolina. Her scoring and 14 rebounds set the tempo for UNC and shut out FSU’s chance of a late comeback.

“I think (the game was great), I have to credit Carolina,” FSU head coach Sue Semrau said. “They had a lot of fire; they had a lot of competitive spirit in them. Allisha Gray had a great game, but I like it for us. Although we can get a little complacent and tonight we had a little bit of confusion and it’s just not like us but again, credit to Carolina for taking advantage of it.”

In every game this season, Florida State has out-rebounded their opponent. And although they won again on the glass, UNC’s second half rally included grabbing eight more boards than FSU in the final 12 minutes of the game.

Next up for UNC is a road trip to Louisville Sunday.



Gritty Tar Heels Conquer Improving Seminoles

The No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team downed Florida State, 78-74, Saturday afternoon in the Smith Center to improve to 16-4 overall and 6-1 in the ACC.

With the loss, the Seminoles dropped to 10-10 on the season with a 2-5 mark in league play.

***Listen to the story***

In a physical contest featuring a host of long, lean and athletic players, the Tar Heels and Seminoles authored a rigorous clash ferociously waged on both sides of the floor. UNC finished with a slim 36-35 edge in rebounds.

Roy Williams greets Leonard Hamilton (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams greets Leonard Hamilton (Todd Melet)

What’s more, it was a refreshingly clean game with a mere 15 combined turnovers, with the Tar Heels only coughing up the ball on five occasions, a season low.

“Coach [Williams] was very excited about that because he is big in turnovers. For ourselves, we are extremely happy just because we don’t have to run in practice,” junior forward J.P. Tokoto says.

UNC head coach Roy Williams says he was pleased with his team’s effort overall.

“We are good to say the least, we got the ‘W’, it was a weird game at times, but we did some nice things. Our execution on offense at the end, and also defensively, I thought we played well at times,” Coach Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

Marcus Paige and Xavier Rathan-Mayes put on quite a show (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige and Xavier Rathan-Mayes put on quite a show (Todd Melet)

Balanced scoring was the theme of the day yet again for UNC with four players finishing in double figures. Junior guard Marcus Paige led the way with 19 points while Brice Johnson added in a flashy 18 points of his own to go along with 14 bruising rebounds.

But it was FSU freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes who stole the show, lighting up the Smith Center to the tune of 35 points – the most by any opposing player in Chapel Hill since 2006, when J.J. Redick of Duke accomplished the feat.

“Boy, [Xavier] Rathan-Mayes, we held him scoreless without a field goal for about four or five minutes, but all of a sudden in the last 30 seconds he made three or four of them in a row. He was a difficult guy for us to guard,” Coach Williams says.

Although Coach Williams insists he’s still not satisfied with UNC’s team defense, FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton says the Tar Heels present a formidable challenge.

“North Carolina is tremendous in quickness, speed, athleticism and they’re very talented. I don’t know what else I can say. They’re well-coached, and they executed their defensive game plan very well. They make life miserable for just about everyone who they play,” Coach Hamilton says.

***Click here for the full game photo gallery***

Rathan-Mayes certainly got off to a hot start, scoring the first 7 points for the Seminoles, but Carolina countered with some efficient, quick offense of its own.

Marcus Paige continued his resurgence in play (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige continued his resurgence in play (Todd Melet)

With 15:38 to play, UNC held a narrow 10-9 lead, but the defensive energy displayed by the Tar Heels would soon overwhelm the offensively-challenged Seminoles.

Johnson and Paige combined to spur the ruthless Carolina attack. The Tar Heels used crisp passing and patient shot selection to take quality shots and more often than not, make them.

Johnson picked up his third foul for an illegal screen at the 5:35 mark in the first half and promptly took a seat on the bench for the remainder of the half for Carolina. With Johnson off the floor, the battling Seminoles were able to whittle away at the Tar Heel lead.

At intermission, UNC sported a 35-31 advantage over visiting FSU. However, it was FSU that was getting the better of the rebounding battle with an 18-14 edge.

Out of the locker room, the intensity was ratcheted up on both sides of the ball with the game hanging in the balance. The athleticism and length, as has become custom of a Leonard Hamilton-coached team at FSU, definitely challenged the Tar Heels.

At the under-16 timeout, UNC maintained a 45-38 lead.

FSU’s athleticism was answered by J.P. Tokoto’s ability to evade defenders and slash his way to the rim. And the junior forward’s emphatic block on the defensive end five minutes into the second half emboldened the Dean Dome crowd.

But with 12:59 to play, an easy basket off the glass by FSU center Boris Bojanovsky trimmed the UNC lead down to a mere three points at 48-45.

Roy Williams coaching up a storm (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams coaching up a storm (Todd Melet)

Both squads relentlessly worked the ball inside down the stretch – picking up fouls or finishing at the rim. Mayes continued to put on a shooting clinic for the Seminoles, knocking down three after three to keep his team in it.

In the end, though, to the delight of the home crowd, it was Carolina that was able to hold on against a young and steadily improving FSU team that showed flashes of potential future success.

UNC sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks says the Tar Heels will do whatever it takes to tough out victories.

“It’s all about toughness. I think that’s what we have really been focusing on since we have players down. Coach has been preaching that in practice. It’s all about picking our teammates up and really grinding it out,” Meeks says.

The Tar Heels face a quick turnaround, back in action Monday night against the Syracuse Orange. The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tipoff in the Smith Center.



UNC Scouting Report: FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton

In his tenure, Florida State men’s basketball head coach Leonard Hamilton has transformed the Seminoles, who won the 2012 ACC Tournament title, from an afterthought into a formidable force in college basketball.

WCHL’s Blake Hodge had a chance to chat with Coach Hamilton as his FSU squad aims for an upset in Chapel Hill Saturday afternoon.

***Listen to the conversation***


Surging Tar Heels Take On Struggling Seminoles

The No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 15-4 on the season and 5-1 in the ACC, returns to the Smith Center Saturday for a 2 p.m. tipoff with 10-9 Florida State.

***Listen to the story***

Despite the mediocre record, the Seminoles are coming in with some momentum, fresh off a gritty road win at Clemson earlier this week.

There are mixed reviews for the Tar Heels. Carolina has won four straight in conference play and is coming off an impressive performance at Wake Forest, where the game was never in doubt.

But the injury bug has hit. Exactly who will be available for active duty Saturday remains a mystery. Nate Britt and Theo Pinson are just the latest duo in a discouragingly long line of Tar Heels getting banged up.

Isaiah Hicks has played spirited defense (Todd Melet)

Isaiah Hicks has played spirited defense (Todd Melet)

Coach Williams says the health of his players is even cutting into valuable practice time.

“We haven’t had very many practices recently. We’ve been trying to milk minutes for Marcus [Paige] and Joel Berry’s not out there. Nate’s [Britt] the only healthy point guard, and he got beat up tonight [Wed.],” Coach Williams says.

But back on the court, Wednesday night’s road effort in Winston-Salem showcased a renewed commitment to aggression in the paint.

Coach Williams says not much has changed since his prediction in the preseason – if the Tar Heels want to be a championship-caliber basketball team, the big guys are going to have to do the heavy lifting.

Marcus Paige is getting the help he's been seeking. (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige is getting the help he’s been seeking. (Todd Melet)

“I said in the first press conference that we had that our team needed a couple big guys to step up and be big-time players. I’ll still say that right now. From the perimter, we’re okay, but Marcus [Paige] hasn’t played the way I want him to play or the way he wants to play. But if the big guys give us those kind of numbers, that’s pretty good,” Coach Williams says.

Injuries and foul trouble coupled to influence Coach Williams’ decision to incorporate a 2-3 zone against the Deacs. But despite the burgeoning use of the zone, don’t expect the Tar Heels to discard their preferred man-to-man style any time soon.

Junior forward Brice Johnson says his teammates need to do a better job of avoiding fouls by playing smarter.

“We went in the zone. At the same time, you can’t rely on that every game. It’s just something that was in the heat of the moment, and Coach decided to do. From now on, we got to watch our fouls, don’t make silly fouls and execute on the defensive end,” Johnson says.

UNC’s balanced scoring has junior guard Marcus Paige confident about the state of the Tar Heels as they progress deeper into the ACC gauntlet.

“We were able to get a nice, comfortable lead. Justin’s [Jackson] playing better. If Kennedy [Meeks] and Brice play like they did tonight, that’s great. J.P. [Tokoto]’s finding his comfort zone. I made a couple shots. I think we’re starting to hit our stride,” Paige says.

UNC’s opponent this weekend, FSU, could offer some resistance to a potential home steamrolling. The Seminoles, no longer an afterthought after their stirring 2012 ACC Tournament title, will be hungry for another statement in a disappointing season to date.

FSU coach Leonard Hamilton (Chantrant.com)

FSU coach Leonard Hamilton (Chantrant.com)

A pair of junior guards, Aaron Thomas and Montay Brandon, does most of the work for Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles, who have shown a knack for jumping up and surprising elite teams.

One thing is for sure. The Seminoles should lace up their shoes tight against UNC. Coach Williams wants the Tar Heels to speed up proceedings.

“I like the pace, but again, we’re still not going as fast as I want us to go. If we were better shooters, I’d want us to go even faster, but I like to be more selective with our shot selection. Shooting sixty percent for the game is extremely good. When we shoot the ball like that, I think we’re a really good basketball team if you don’t play stupid sometimes,” Coach Williams says.

UNC leads the all-time series with FSU, 46-12, and has emerged victorious the last four meetings.


Oakes’ Outlook: Bowls, Roles, and Noles


And so the Tar Heels’ disappointing 2014 campaign will come to a close in Motown. It’s a fitting end (a dreary and cold one in the Midwest at that) for Carolina in a season that began with its head coach, Larry Fedora, proclaiming “it’s time.” Time for what, exactly, I’m not sure, but it certainly wasn’t a trip to the Quick Lane Bowl to face the equally mediocre 7-5 Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Grab your tickets, folks! Get ’em while they’re hot. I hear you can grab a pair of upper deck tickets for $75 each. After all, who doesn’t want to spend Christmas in Detroit?

The only one who might be excited about UNC’s bowl destination is Eric Ebron. The ex-Tar Heel turned Detroit Lion won’t have to travel far to watch his former teammates play. Enjoy, Ebron. I’m sitting this one out.

Photo courtesy of longshotblues.com

Photo courtesy of longshotblues.com



Strap yourselves in, Carolina fans. I’m setting the over/under for the number of times we hear the word “platoon” Saturday at 50. Place your bets!

If you haven’t heard, the Tar Heels head to Rupp Arena Saturday for a meeting with the No. 1 team in the land – the Kentucky Wildcats. I’m still waiting to hear back from John Calipari’s folks for an interview…then I can ask him which side he’d like on that over/under. He’s a betting man, right?

The real question in this game is whether the blue platoon or the white platoon gets more playing time. “What did you think about that platoon shift there? I don’t know, Calipari may have taken the blue platoon out a little too soon – they’re a more offensively-gifted platoon.” Just a taste.

But let’s face it: the result isn’t really in doubt. The margin of victory? Sure. UK is really good.

Just remember, we won’t be watching a war movie this weekend. This will be college basketball. It will be easy to confuse the two. You’ll be all “platooned” out when the final buzzer sounds around 2 p.m. Saturday.

FREE ADVICE: Get your earplugs ready.

Photo courtesy of fashiontimes.com

Photo courtesy of fashiontimes.com


Jimbo’s Genius

Has there ever been a more dominant team less appreciated (or, ummm….more disrespected) than Florida State?

29 straight victories. Defending national champions. Three-time defending ACC champions. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Tradition. Pageantry. Legends.

You can think whatever you’d like about Jameis Winston’s childishly foolish behavior off the field, but I choose to separate the product on the field from the transgressions off it.

And the product I’ve witnessed on the field since November 24th, 2012 (the last time they came out on the wrong end of a scoreboard) has been nothing short of spectacular.

And yet, as the Seminoles continued to rack up the victories this season, they began to slide down the College Football Playoff rankings. In effect, FSU was penalized for doing what? Winning. That’s downright laughable.

Dear committee members, I don’t envy your job. It’s a tough one, no doubt. But you’re missing the forest for the trees.

Photo courtesy of atlantablackstar.com

Photo courtesy of atlantablackstar.com

The goal of a game is to win. Score more than your opponent. Who’s done that better than FSU? Nobody.

Flash only takes you so far. Substance prevails. FSU has plenty of that. But this year, at least, FSU isn’t sexy. Americans like sexy.

Perhaps that’s why each week, without fail, prognosticators, pundits and so-called experts pick the Noles to lose. This will be the week, they say. The week they won’t find a way to escape.

Yes, some day, maybe very soon, it will all be over. The Seminoles will lose. Most people will be happy.

But until then, I choose to give credit where credit is due. I’ll embrace the gritty determination, the steely composure under pressure and the ability to flip the switch. I admire it all. Why hate? Appreciate!

This year’s FSU team undoubtedly has more cracks in the armor than last year’s dominant display of perfection – in every phase of the game. The defense has holes. Jameis is more errant with the football. But in a way, to me, that makes the 2014 Noles even more impressive.

They’ve persevered. They overcame off-the-field issues. They survived the media onslaught. They’ve taken everybody’s best shot each and every week. They’ve been hated, and they’ve handled that too.

Photo courtesy of ngngsports.com

Photo courtesy of ngngsports.com

Sometimes you forget that these are 18, 19 and 20-year-old kids.

It’s far easier to get to the top than to stay there. Everybody wants to knock you off the pedestal, especially if you’re Jameis Winston – the guy everybody loves to hate. So what’s the magic formula to the Seminoles’ ability to stave off all challengers? There are lots of ingredients.

But the man stirring that potent concoction is Jimbo Fisher.

I still remember sitting a few feet away from the FSU head coach back in July at the ACC preseason media event in Greensboro.

There was something in the glint of his eyes and the infectious conviction in his words that made me a believer. Right then and there. Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

He let me take a peek behind the curtain. He talked for over 20 minutes on this thing called the “attitude of domination.” He discussed how in order to be special, you have to do something different that others aren’t willing to do. The throngs of national media members listened to the man preach.

Some coaches are X’s and O’s guys. And yes, Jimbo’s no slouch in that department. But I’m convinced that what sets him apart is not his football expertise.

No, Jimbo’s a philosopher. Behind those dadgum-its and goofy smiles, there lies a resolute belief system for success. I see how he gets his Noles to buy in.

We’ve grown so accustomed to Jimbo being asked the same questions by the TV sideline reporters after each and every thrilling come-from-behind victory this season. One of those questions is always, “How do you guys continue to come up with these fourth quarter comeback wins?”

Jimbo’s regular response? “It’s who we are.”

That resonates with me. And more importantly, it’s resonated in the hearts and minds of his players.

Through it all, the Seminoles have continued to live up to the University’s motto – UNCONQUERED. 29 and counting…

But yet again, everybody and their mother will be picking Florida State to lose when it takes the field in Pasadena against the mighty juggernaut that is Oregon in the national semifinals.

That’s just fine with Jimbo and the Noles. In fact, they like it that way.


Follow Matt on Twitter @moakes3


Seminoles Smack Tar Heels 7-1

The seventh-seeded North Carolina baseball team dropped its opening game of pool play in the ACC Tournament by a score of 7-1 to second-seeded Florida State Wednesday night at NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro.

With the loss, the Tar Heels fell to 33-24 on the season while the Seminoles improved to 42-14 with the victory.

Starting FSU pitcher Billy Strode tossed six shutout innings to stymie the Carolina bats as Taylore Cherry struggled to hold the Seminole offense at bay. The Seminoles scored four runs in the fourth inning to seize control of the game.

The Tar Heels avoided a shutout by getting on the board in the seventh thanks to Alex Raburn’s RBI single that scored Landon Lassiter.

Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston entered the game in relief duty for FSU and secured the final nine outs to give Strode his second win of the season.

It doesn’t get any easier for Carolina. Next up for the Tar Heels is a Friday night meeting with third-seeded Virginia at 7 p.m. Head coach Mike Fox says Benton Moss is expected to start things off on the mound for the Tar Heels against the Cavaliers.



Carolina Baseball Avoids Sweep, Snags Vital 5-4 Win Over No. 4 FSU

The North Carolina baseball team avoided a sweep at the hands of No. 4 Florida State Sunday at Boshamer Stadium by claiming a 5-4 victory to improve to 30-21 overall and 14-13 in the ACC.

***Listen to the story***

With the loss, the Seminoles dropped to 39-12 overall and 19-8 in conference.

It wasn’t your typical Sunday baseball series finale for the Tar Heels. It was graduation day, Mother’s day and senior day all wrapped into one.

Top all that off with the fact that a series sweep could have possibly placed Carolina on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, and Sunday’s game had plenty surrounding it. Carolina rose to the occasion.

Tyler Ramirez drove in Parks Jordan with a tiebreaking single in the bottom of the seventh, and the Tar Heels held on for the gritty win.

Unlike the first two games of the FSU series, Carolina converted on putting two men on base in the first inning, cashing in to seize the early 1-0 lead.

The Tar Heels looked to be in firm command up 4-0 in the middle of the fourth inning. But drama would soon ensue.

Carolina freshman starter Zac Gallen ran into trouble in the fifth. The Seminole rally ultimately tied the game at four runs in the sixth inning.

Tar Heel reliever Reilly Hovis was called to the mound to steady the Seminole charge.

Meanwhile, FSU brought in its bullpen ace Gage Smith. The right-hander retired the first seven batters he faced before the Tar Heels were able to break through in the seventh.

Skye Bolt flew out to center, but Jordan was able to advance on the play, and the senior crossed home plate on Ramirez’s clutch two-out, two-strike single to right field.

Now armed with the lead to protect, Hovis, like he has all season long, clamped down. The sophomore allowed just a pair of singles in the final two innings, and he closed out the game in style with a strikeout. It was Hovis’ seventh win of the year.

Reilly Hovis celebrates the win (UNC Athletics)

Reilly Hovis celebrates the win (UNC Athletics)

It was certainly a memorable final home stretch for senior Jordan. Playing in what will likely be his final home games at Boshamer Stadium, Jordan played inspired baseball.

In his swansong to Chapel Hill, Jordan carded a .526 batting average, recorded six RBIs, and scored four runs in five games. He also showed off his versatility by starting in three different positions.

The Tar Heels have now reached the 30-win mark for the 16th consecutive season under head coach Mike Fox.

Next up for Carolina comes a four-game road trip beginning Tuesday at Gardner-Webb. Carolina will then make the trip down to south Florida to face a tough Miami squad in a three-game set.