Tar Heels Hope To Hit Lucky Seven In Hostile Territory

The No. 13 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 17-4 overall and 7-1 in ACC play, travels to No. 10 Louisville, 17-3 on the season and 5-2 in the league, to take on the defensive-minded Cardinals Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. in a pivotal ACC showdown.

***Listen to the story***

The Tar Heels will hope to be road warriors in the coming weeks as they strap themselves in for a stretch that includes away games in four of the next five matchups.

That all begins Saturday with a tough test at the KFC Yum Center against a Louisville squad that will have revenge on its mind. Earlier this month, the Cardinals dropped a 72-71 decision to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.

Roy Williams gets limbered up courtside (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams gets limbered up courtside (Todd Melet)

UNC is looking for its seventh win in a row and 12th in 13 games overall. In the latest win against Syracuse, it was sophomore guard Nate Britt who made a welcome statement.

“Nate was awesome. I feel so good for him. He had the death of his grandfather the night of the N.C. State game and 15 stitches in his mouth at Wake Forest. He’s been battling, battling, battling,” UNC head coach Coach Williams says.

Despite the radical switch in shooting hands last summer, Coach Williams says he never doubted Britt’s decision.

“His release looks great. His left-handed release because of the hitch he had never looked great. I’ve never doubted that decision. You love it when you have that kind of support from the family. He’s been struggling. The little rascal was a big-time player for us,” Coach Williams says.

Meanwhile, Carolina junior point guard Marcus Paige rang up a team-leading 22 points Monday night. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Paige this season. But to that end, Coach Williams says he’s never been too concerned with Paige’s shooting touch.

“I told you guys more than once that if Marcus was my biggest concern, I’ve got a really blessed life,” Coach Williams says.

Against a Cardinal squad led by two outstanding playmakers in Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell, the Tar Heels will need to be flowing on the offensive end to escape enemy territory victorious.

For UNC, a comfortable Britt, who says his team is like a family to him, will be looking for a reprise of his standout performance.

“I’ve had a lot of support from my family, teammates, and especially the coaching staff. They’ve always made me feel like this is a second home from me. Anything that I’ve ever needed, they’ve been there for me,” Britt says.

Coach Williams is open and honest about his team’s inability to knock down shots, but in recent games, it seems the Tar Heels have begun to find the range.

Marcus Paige has his eyes on the basket (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige has his eyes on the basket (Todd Melet)

Three guys got 17 and another guy got 22 against a defense that’s really tough for us. We don’t shoot the ball especially well to say the least, but nine out of 16 tonight [vs. Syracuse], I’ll take that every night to say the least,” Coach Williams says.

In Carolina’s six-game winning streak, the team has shot 50.8 percent from the floor.

Britt, for one, has supreme confidence in his team’s upward trajectory in the ACC. With all the pieces seemingly coming together, the sophomore is relishing his team’s chances.

“We’re starting to feel each other out a little bit more. Kennedy [Meeks] and Brice [Johnson] have been playing off the charts. Marcus [Paige] is getting his confidence back. When we have everybody working and doing their job, we can be really good,” Britt says.

UNC leads the all-time series with the Cardinals 10-3. The last win for Rick Pitino’s squad came more than fifteen years ago in 1999.


2015 FB Slate Full of Intrigue for Tar Heels

A season-opening showdown in Charlotte against South Carolina, seven home games at Kenan Stadium and a Thursday night road contest at Pittsburgh highlight the 2015 Tar Heel football schedule.

Announced Thursday by the ACC, Carolina will also close the regular season against N.C. State for the second straight season. It will mark only the second time in history the Tar Heels have played their regular season finale in Raleigh.

Renewing their ACC-SEC interstate rivalry, the Tar Heels and Gamecocks will collide at a neutral site to be played in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers. The Tar Heels will be out for some revenge. A couple years ago, UNC lost in Columbia in a Thursday night contest to open the college football season.

In total, Carolina squares off with eight teams that went to a bowl game a year ago, including the last five opponents of the season.

View the complete 2015 UNC football schedule here.


Countdown to First Pitch: Benton Moss

After turning down an offer to play for the defending world champions, senior starting pitcher Benton Moss is back in Chapel Hill for a final run at college glory. Our Countdown to First Pitch preview continues with an inside look at UNC baseball’s most fascinating player.

Selected in the 15th round by the San Francisco Giants during last June’s MLB Draft, you can’t blame Moss for feeling a little slighted. The right-hander from Rocky Mount is also a Morehead Scholar, so his academic load is obviously much greater than the average Carolina student.

Unfortunately, this seemed to scare some teams away from selecting him earlier, worrying that his head could be too focused on other pursuits off the field.

San Francisco didn't feel like the right place for Moss. (Daily Tar Heel)

San Francisco didn’t feel like the right place for Moss. (Daily Tar Heel)

“It was very weird emotions, honestly, because I was hoping to go in the top ten (rounds), but got a little discounted because of the academic side, and they knew I had interests in school,” Moss says, “It’s kind of a weird situation.”

Seeking degrees in both business and economics, Benton’s main concentration in school is on finance.  If he doesn’t end up in baseball, it’s easy to picture him finding success channeling his inner Warren Buffet.

“Long term, I’d like to be an investor. I’d like to buy and help run, mentor, and coach younger companies. I really like venture capital and I also like private equities,” Moss says.

He came to UNC four years ago as a nationally ranked, top 100 recruit, and has been a weekend starter every season he’s been on campus, often pitching close to a hundred innings per season.

Due to his heavy work rate in the spring, he often takes the summer off from baseball to rest his arm.

There is no sitting around though. He usually spends his summers doing various internships, including one where he got to live out his dream.

“I actually did an internship with the Yankees, they’re my favorite team,” Moss says.

Benton had a great experience interning for the New York Yankees. (UNC Athletics)

Benton had a great experience interning for the New York Yankees. (UNC Athletics)

While there, he found that one thing he shares in common with the Yanks is that they each set the bar extremely high for themselves, saying “I respected the culture they have. They run a tight ship and expect only the best, highest level of excellence possible.”

Getting a chance to meet with legendary Yankee closer Mariano Rivera meant a great deal to Benton, who has always admired Rivera’s legendary calm demeanor on the mound.

“I was always very impressed with Mo Rivera. He’s just quiet, calm, cool, and collected. Obviously, he didn’t start out that way because when he was young he was a hothead. But he learned how to control that and had a huge career. I’ve always respected him,” Moss says.

With the amount of time he spends on athletics and academics, it’s hard to believe that this man could possibly have more talents.

But he does.

In his down time, it turns out Benton is also a very highly skilled musician.

“I played the piano for 12 or 13 years, and taught myself to play the acoustic guitar after my aunt gave me a couple lessons. And with singing, I just started to sing a little bit and it sounded okay,” Moss says.

Performing in front of crowds doesn’t scare him either, as he’s performed and sang in front of large audiences at the Rammy Awards, an annual event celebrating academic, athletic, and community outreach performances by student-athletes.

Alone in the car however, Benton says he can’t help himself from cranking the volume up, and singing along with Sam Smith’s hit songs “Stay With Me”, and “I’m Not the Only One”.

“Guilty as charged”, he claims.

Moss is poised to take on a heavy leadership role with the team. (Durham Herald-Sun)

Moss is poised to take on a heavy leadership role with the team. (Durham Herald-Sun)

As far as the team goes, Moss believes this year’s group has made some serious improvements from last season. He says he’s enjoying taking on a major leadership role in the clubhouse, and that this bunch of guys has been the most fun to be around during his time at UNC.

Impact freshmen seem to be the key to the season, and so far they’ve definitely impressed Benton.

Newcomer Ryder Ryan actually hit a homer off Moss during a recent team scrimmage when Moss left a cutter hanging. Benton also says he sees a ton of potential in Ryan’s fellow freshmen classmates – pitcher Hansen Butler, infielder Logan Warmoth, and first baseman Hunter Williams.

After that promising scrimmage, Moss envisions plenty of success for the Tar Heels this season.

“What I think you’re gonna see is that when we take these two teams we had today and put them together, we’ve got a pretty studly lineup,” Moss says.

With Virginia seen as one of the early favorites to win the ACC, Benton admits he has his sights set on defeating the Cavaliers this year.

The future appears bright for the 2015 edition of Coach Mike Fox’s program.

For Benton Moss, arguably the most interesting man in Chapel Hill, it may be even brighter.


Erratic Tar Heels Persevere Past Orange Zone

The No. 13 North Carolina men’s basketball team battled by Syracuse, 93-83, Monday night in the Smith Center to record its sixth straight ACC victory and improve to 17-4 overall.

With the loss, the Orange dropped to 14-7 on the season and 5-3 in league action.

***Listen to the story***

At the half, UNC head coach Roy Williams had plenty of ammo for his locker room speech. He had 13 bullets in his gun.

Those ‘bullets’ represented the 13 turnovers committed by the Tar Heels in the opening 20 minutes of action.

Roy Williams looking on from the sidelines (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams looking on from the sidelines (Todd Melet)

“First half I thought they out-competed us, and our turnovers led to 16 points, and you can’t have 13 turnovers in a half and have a team outscore you 16 to two,” Coach Williams says.

The Tar Heels cleaned up their act in the second half and certainly fared better against Syracuse’s famed zone defense this season, shooting at a 55-percent clip as a team to erase the misery that was a 57-45 loss at the Carrier Dome a year ago.

“Everything looks better when the ball goes in the basket. That’s the bottom line,” Coach Williams says.

But the victory didn’t come easy. UNC was forced to overcome a season-high 20 turnovers and withstand an offensive onslaught from Syracuse junior guard Trevor Cooney and senior forward Rakeem Christmas.

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


Marcus Paige jumper (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige jumper (Todd Melet)

Cooney finished with 28 points to lead all scorers while Christmas tallied 22 points and was also a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line.

But ultimately, Syracuse couldn’t keep up with the torrid offensive pace set by Carolina in the second half. Junior point guard Marcus Paige led the Tar Heel scoring charge with 22 points, including four makes from behind the arc.

But one of his teammates, upstaged him on this night. Switch-shooting sophomore Nate Britt poured in four three-pointers of his own on his way to a career-high 17 points, and according to Syracuse Hall of Fame head coach Jim Boeheim, Britt proved to be the “difference-maker”.

“I think Britt probably was the difference-maker in the game. He made four threes, and I thought that was the big difference in the game. I thought we played well. I think North Carolina just had a great second half, and that was it,” Coach Boeheim says.

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

After falling behind 7-2 early, a Paige three-pointer tied the game up at 7 points apiece with 15:45 to go in the first half.

But six quick turnovers hindered UNC’s progression, allowing the Orange a chance to capitalize on the home team’s mistakes. But Syracuse’s inefficiency on the offensive end allowed Carolina to hang close, well save for one player.

Isaiah Hicks battles Rakeem Christmas and company for the ball (Todd Melet)

Isaiah Hicks battles Rakeem Christmas and company for the ball (Todd Melet)

Cooney was electric, knocking down shot after shot from behind the arc, some even from NBA range. With 6:35 to play, the Orange held a 24-19 advantage.

Outside of Cooney though, the Orange were struggling to find much point production. The Tar Heels found their shooting touch and a rare successful J.P. Tokoto three-pointer was a testament to that.

Despite a whopping 13 first-half turnovers from UNC, at the intermission, Carolina trailed by a mere five points at 40-35.

Out of the locker room, it was Brice Johnson who was all fired up, providing a spark to the UNC offense and in turn, igniting the Tar Heel faithful.

A strong finish in the paint from Meeks drew a foul and the chance at a three-point play with 15:58 remaining in the contest. He converted. As a result, the Tar Heels drew within a single point at 47-46.

Per usual, Paige rose to the occasion in the second half. He popped a three with 11:30 remaining to tie the game up at 56-all.

But Christmas was imposing himself on the other end for the Orange, grabbing rebounds and working his way to the foul line.

With both offenses fully engaged, the game transformed into a back-and-forth affair. Britt joined the scoring frenzy with back-to-back three-point makes. With 7:12 to play, UNC sported a 68-62 lead.

Kennedy Meeks goes up to the basket (Todd Melet)

Kennedy Meeks goes up to the basket (Todd Melet)

With Christmas leading the Orange attack and Britt spurring on the Tar Heels, both defenses struggled to gain much traction down the stretch.

But it was Carolina who was able to gut out its free throws in the crucible of the tense final minutes to gutt out yet another narrow victory and send the Smith Center fans home happy.

After the game, Britt was all smiles.

“I felt like I kept getting open looks and my teammates kept looking for me, and when you have those guys telling you to shoot it, I felt like I had no choice, and so I was able to knock a few down,” Britt says.

Next up for the Tar Heels is a tough road trip out to No. 10 Louisville for a 4 p.m. tipoff Saturday afternoon in the KFC Yum Center.



Tar Heels, Orange Face Off Monday Night

The No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 16-4 overall and 6-1 in conference play, will square off with the Syracuse Orange, 14-6 on the season and 5-2 in the ACC, Monday night inside the Smith Center.

The Tar Heels will be gunning for their sixth straight victory and will welcome the Orange to Chapel Hill for the first time as a fellow ACC member.

Jim Boeheim’s squad will be looking to rebound from a 66-62 home loss to Miami Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Dome.

The UNC students will be in full voice Monday night in the Dean Dome (Todd Melet)

The UNC students will be in full voice Monday night in the Dean Dome (Todd Melet)

The quick turnaround for both teams could lead to a fatigue factor, but junior forward J.P. Tokoto says he’s not worried about the Tar Heels being ready to roll.

“We have great trainers that are going to help us take care of our bodies the next couple days. Practice is going to be a little lighter at a faster pace – working out some things that we see in film that we need to correct,” Tokoto says.

Coach Williams has been pleading for more toughness out of his players all season long, but he says he’s seen good progress in that department. But still, he’s waiting for a charge, and he’s hoping to see it Monday night.

“We’ve gotten better, we really have. James Michael McAdoo set the tone for everybody. I say one man makes a majority. If you step up, everybody will follow. Today, we had several opportunities to take a charge, and we haven’t got one yet. We’re going to get one next game. I think we’ll get one. If we don’t, we’ll have a ‘take charge’ drill in practice. We’re going to get one before I die,” Coach Williams says.

Those extra effort plays are usually the ones that decide the outcomes in the habitual down-to-the-wire games in the ACC. The tilt against the zone-heavy defense and rangy athleticism of the Orange should be no exception.

Coach Williams, though, says UNC’s defensive play is still not up to his liking, and it’s keeping him from doling out high praise to the big guys like Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks.

Rakeem Christmas hangs on the rim (Orange Athletics)

Rakeem Christmas hangs on the rim (Orange Athletics)

“The defense stinks. When they start playing great defense, then I’ll anoint them also. Brice – what play do you think I liked more than any play Brice made in the game? He dove on the floor,” Coach Williams says. “He didn’t get on Twitter to ask his followers if he should dive on this possession. He dove on the daggum floor and got us an extra possession to score. It was a pretty significant move.”

Syracuse’s senior forward Rakeem Christmas will put UNC’s defense to the test. Christmas is averaging 18 points per outing, tallying 23 points last time out against the Hurricanes.

And with just a day of recovery time for a Carolina squad that has lost a considerable amount of depth due to recent injuries, the ninth meeting between UNC and Syracuse figures to be a compelling contest.

The Tar Heels are Orange are locked up at 4 wins apiece all-time.


UNC Closes Rivalry Week with Sunday Duke Matchup

The No. 12 North Carolina women’s basketball team faces its top rival, No. 15 Duke, in Carmichael Arena Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m.

In facing another in-state rival, N.C. State, UNC is coming off of a nail-biting 67-63 win Thursday in Raleigh. Senior guard Danielle Butts led Carolina in scoring for the first time in her career with 12 points, and fellow senior Latifah Coleman added a career-high seven rebounds.

Down Tobacco Road, Duke suffered a road loss to Boston College Thursday night, which made for their fifth straight road loss this season. They will be looking to snap that streak with Duke’s high scoring duo in Elizabeth Williams and Azura Stevens, who average a combined 43.5 points, 18 rebounds, eight assists, six blocks and five steals per game.

But Carolina has a notable duo of its own. Sophomores Allisha Gray and Stephanie Mavunga make up two of the ACC’s leading scorers to go along with the shot-blocking accolades for Mavunga. Both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils have an ACC record of 4-2.

You can watch the rivalry game on ESPN2 or listen live on 97.9 FM.


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.



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.


The Whole Clique’s Clickin’ for UNC

The atmosphere in the UNC locker room that night was like a funeral. Heads drooped, bodies slumped, and tears were choked back. Everyone in the room struggled to comprehend what was happening.

It was Wednesday, December 3rd, and the Tar Heels had just finished up a disappointing 60-55 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes. After losing to Butler a week earlier, this marked their second upset loss in eight days, dropping them to 5-2 on the year.

A firestorm of criticism and worries rained down upon the team. Marcus Paige wasn’t vocal enough as a leader. The freshmen didn’t produce enough. And most of all, after a second half in which they gave up 16 offensive rebounds to the Hawkeyes, the big men weren’t tough enough.

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

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

The Paige uproar was put to bed weeks ago, with the game winner at home against Louisville, and the Picasso-like masterpiece he painted on the road against N.C. State – not to mention the revelation of the plantar fasciitis he’s been playing with all year long.

Recently, he’s had plenty of help from his teammates, who have all begun to step up to the challenge of quieting the haters. The result has been the team’s most impressive stretch of play all season.

Crazily enough, nobody was quieter after the Iowa game than junior forward Brice Johnson. Foul trouble limited him to just 12 minutes. In the time he was on the floor, Johnson scored two points on seven shot attempts, while only snagging four rebounds. It was easily his worst performance of the season.

Questioned about missing a few layups around the rim that night, an extremely somber and emotional Johnson said to reporters that for the team to improve in the future he needed to “Stop being a baby and just go up there and dunk it.”

It’s time to take notice, because for Brice Johnson and the rest of the Carolina supporting cast, that future is starting to come to fruition. The Tar Heels have won four in a row, sport a 15-4 overall record, and they sit at 5-1 in the brutal ACC, trailing only Virginia and Notre Dame. These guys are the reason why.

Brice taking on Louisville star Montrezl Harrell (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson taking on Louisville star Montrezl Harrell (Todd Melet)

I mention Brice because his up-and-down play throughout his career has seemingly turned him into a lightning rod for criticism.

His play is often the X-factor when determining whether the Heels win or lose. In each of the losses he’s failed to record more than five rebounds, despite averaging close to eight per game for the season. During the recent winning streak, he’s posted two double-doubles, scored in double figures in every game, and held Louisville’s All-American forward Montrezl Harrell to just nine points and five boards.

Oh yeah, and he’s been dunking the ball…A lot.

Kennedy Meeks has unintentionally given birth to one of Chapel Hill’s newest traditions, with viewers at home tipping their glasses back each time they are reminded by TV announcers that Meeks lost fifty pounds during the offseason. Also, in his spare time he’s managed to lead UNC in rebounding and shooting percentage, forming what could possibly be considered the ACC’s best frontcourt tag-team along with Johnson.

Their play up front has also been supplemented by freshman Justin Jackson, who has started every game but is just now starting to find his groove. His three point shot is falling, he’s getting to the free throw line, and his long, wiry frame has helped him play excellent defense on the wing.  The last two games have been Jackson’s best of the year, scoring 16 and grabbing seven rebounds against Virginia Tech followed by 17 more points Wednesday night at Wake Forest.

Justin Jackson showing his length (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson showing his length (Todd Melet)

The other freshmen on the roster, point guard Joel Berry and small forward Theo Pinson, are each sidelined with injuries, but have made their mark in recent wins. Berry’s second half three-pointer that ignited the Tar Heels’ comeback victory from 13 down with eight minutes to play against Louisville stands as the most notable.

Sophomore guard Nate Britt has also come off the bench and added some much-needed outside shooting.

Since the beginning of the season, it’s been known that for Carolina to reach the ceiling their preseason #6 ranking created for them, Paige playing outstanding would not be enough. The development of the rest of this young, athletic team, loaded with potential, was always going to be the key.

Johnson has put his big boy pants on, and the rest of Paige’s posse has followed suit.

Two home games against Florida State and Syracuse are next on the schedule for the Heels. If these boys continue to play like they have, the streak will be at six heading into Louisville, with a home contest against undefeated Virginia on the horizon.

Funeral plans have been canceled. Casket talk has been put to rest. This team is very much alive.


UNC WBB Completes Comeback Win Over N.C. State

In a narrow escape, the No. 12 North Carolina’s women basketball team defeated North Carolina State ,67-63, in Reynolds Coliseum Thursday evening. The Tar Heels are now 4-2 in the ACC and 17-3 overall. With the loss, N.C. State fell even to 3-3 in the conference with a 12-7 record.

The start of the game was sluggish for both teams. Carolina committed 3 turnovers in its first few possessions and did not score a field goal until almost four minutes into the game. Both UNC and N.C. State were shooting well below 30 percent from the field.

Unlike the teams’ first meeting in Chapel Hill on Jan. 4, the Tar Heels never made a solid run to gain any hope of clinching a blowout. In fact, N.C. State ran up the score on them, leading by as many as 13, but the Wolfpack ended the first half with a 26-21 edge thanks to poor shooting from the Tar Heels.

“We kept battling hard, so I was happy we were only down by five at halftime,” UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “But State played really smart and they played well but we had a time out and I challenged the seniors – I have three seniors. And I just said ‘alright you three seniors, this is your team.’ And they went back out there and then man, all of a sudden we got a couple of steals off defensive pressure and it gave us some momentum that we needed.”

Coming out of the halftime break, UNC turned up the intensity on its defense and broke out into a trap that allowed them three steals and two easy buckets for Latifah Coleman and Stephanie Mavunga.

And in the final minutes of fouls and free throws, senior Brittany Rountree sealed the win for UNC, going 8-8 from behind the line in the last 30 seconds. Her 9 points came from free throws alone.

“The free throws, we do a lot of those in practice,” Rountree said. “Coach (Andrew) Calder and Coach Hatchell challenge us so I mean, it just comes with practice. It’s something that I’m used to and my teammates and coaches depend on me so I don’t let them down. I kind of like being in those situations, especially silencing the crowd.”

N.C. State’s offense was led by Len’Nique Brown with 21 points and Dominique Wilson with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Jennifer Mathurin, a 6’1” forward, posed as a double threat to Carolina as a big presence in the post and a scorer from outside. Mathurin shot 3-7 from the three point line.

Wolfpack head coach Wes Moore maintains hopes of keeping an NCAA tournament berth a realistic goal for his team, but he says he knows they’re running out of time.

“The thing about this league is it’s probably the strongest in the country,” Coach Moore said. “If you can get some signature wins, you still have a chance. We’re 3-3, but again we don’t have a signature win or two that we need and we’ve got to find a way to get that.”

The Tar Heels will continue to be that signature team to beat for the remainder of the season. Next up for UNC comes a home court showdown against another rival this weekend. No. 15 Duke, who is now 13-6 on the season and 4-2 in the ACC, travels to Carmichael Sunday at 5 p.m.