Happy Holiday ‘Hardwood’ Season For Tar Heels

It was a clean sweep for the Tar Heels on the hardwood over the weekend. The women took full advantage of a pre-Christmas beach vacation, while the men finally earned that signature win they had been hoping for.

***Listen to the story***

A fourth loss wouldn’t have necessarily been devastating for the UNC men’s basketball team, but an 82-74 win was a much better outcome for head coach Roy Williams’ squad Saturday inside the United Center.

No. 24 Carolina came out on fire, knocking down shots and playing with high energy on both sides of the floor to create a quick double-digit lead on No. 12 Ohio State.

JP Tokoto gets a bucket (UNC Athletics)

JP Tokoto lays one in (UNC Athletics)

But it was the way the 8-3 Tar Heels finished, missing nearly all of their free throws down the stretch and turning the ball over with regularity, which is keeping Coach Williams from drinking too much celebratory Egg Nog.

“I’m extremely relieved. I’m not sitting up here saying I’m as happy as I could possibly be. I don’t hear the ‘Happy’ song in my ears right now. We stunk it up down the stretch, and I think we got to get better there,” Coach Williams says.

Junior point guard Marcus Paige says he’s happy with the improved play of the big men this year, but is not using that as an excuse for his dip in production this season.

“Brice [Johnson] and Kennedy [Meeks] have done a great job this year of being an inside presence. We wanted Kennedy to finish a little stronger around the basket today, but Brice was great [18 pts, 9 rbs]. I don’t need to play perfect, but I do need to play better,” Paige says.

Meanwhile in Myrtle Beach, the UNC women’s basketball team picked up a pair of convincing wins over inferior opponents to cure the sour taste of their first loss of the season.

Sophomore guard Allisha Gray continues to provide the most offensive spark for the 11-1 Tar Heels, leading the scoring charge in both contests with 17 points against Maine Friday night and 20 points versus Elon on Sunday.

Allisha Gray (UNC Athletics)

Allisha Gray (UNC Athletics)

Junior forward Xylina McDaniel went down with an apparent ankle injury late in Sunday’s game, but the full extent of her injury remains unknown.

Sunday’s 85-67 victory was not settled until the second half. After taking a mere 46-43 advantage into the locker room, the Tar Heels used a 9-0 run to open the final 20 minutes of play to seize control and cruise from there.

The Tar Heels will now get a chance to enjoy their Christmas before returning to action later this month in Chapel Hill.

The men welcome UAB to the Smith Center Saturday for a 4 p.m. tipoff. The women don’t play again until a Dec. 30 meeting with Albany in Carmichael Arena.


Carolina Conquers Ohio State In Chi-Town

CHICAGO — Carolina won a must game on its non-conference schedule, but almost gave the dad-gum thing away to Ohio State for Christmas before holding on for 82-74 win Saturday at The House Jordan Built (United Center).

After their best first half of the season, leading 43-31 when it should have been a bigger spread, the Tar Heels were still up a dozen with seven minutes to play. Then two hallmarks of a legendary program that have failed the last couple of seasons returned – scary bad foul shooting and the lack of confidence to close out a game.

Over 45 seconds, Carolina missed seven of eight free throws (the usually deadly Marcus Paige three of them), but poor shooting by Ohio State or good defense by the Tar Heels (or both) kept the Big Ten Buckeyes scoreless for most of the last minute when they had cut the deficit to seven points and were in position to steal the win.

Roy Williams called it a “weird, weird game” and finished both halves mad at his team that for about 32 minutes played the kind of basketball Tar Heel fans have been hoping for since the season began.

Brice Johnson with the dunk (UNC Athletics)

Brice Johnson with the dunk (UNC Athletics)

They led by as many as 16 points in the first half with balanced scoring and an eight-rebound margin but let the lead slip to 12, giving up two baskets to the Buckeyes around what was supposed to be the last shot of the half.

“I was really ticked off at halftime,” Williams said. “If I want the last shot, you know what I want? The last shot. Not shoot with six seconds left and give them a layup on the other end.”

Making it worse was Carolina had two fouls to give but let the Buckeyes score at the buzzer on a pass by Shannon Scott, the son of former UNC All-American Charles Scott who is currently second in the nation in assists.

Ohio State stayed relatively close in the first half on six three-pointers, three by Marc Loving, the game’s high scorer with 19. The Buckeyes shot 50 percent from the arc but only 30 percent from closer where Carolina’s size inside bothered them and led to the rebounding mismatch.

For most of the game, the Heels handled Ohio State’s aggressive zone, staying patient and getting good looks. Brice Johnson had 18 points, making eight of his 10 shots,

Paige finished with 16, Justin Jackson with 11 and three other players had eight each. Joel James, Nate Britt and freshman Joel Berry came off the bench to contribute and, for certain segments, the Tar Heels resembled a top 10 team, outplaying the No. 12 Buckeyes, now 9-2.

Then the helter-skelter returned, free throws wouldn’t fall, panicky passes resulted in turnovers and the confidence disappeared.

“We missed some shots and made some turnovers, and those kinds of things are contagious,” said Paige, who continued to struggle from the field and be less than perfect from the foul line.

Paige did get started earlier than usual, drilling two three-pointers (one for a four-point play) in the first half but finished the game shooting 4 for 12.

The Tar Heels wore retro jerseys from Michael Jordan’s era and posed for a picture in front of Jordan’s statue after Friday’s practice. And for much of the game they looked like some of the fluid teams Jordan played on. They go home for Christmas with an 8-3 record and with home games left in 2014 against UAB and Williams & Mary, they should start ACC play in January with the 10 wins needed to position themselves for an NCAA Tournament run.

Clearly, it remains a work in progress for the frustrated Williams, but the first game of the first CBS Sports Classic doubleheader was much better than the second. Top-ranked Kentucky scored the first 24 points against UCLA and blew out the Bruins.


No. 24 UNC Aims For Signature Win

The No. 24 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 7-3 on the season, gets another chance to show its improvement against a top-flight opponent. This time, the Tar Heels will clash with the No. 12 Ohio State Buckeyes in the CBS Sports Classic Saturday at 1 p.m.

***Listen to the story***

UNC head coach Roy Williams has lofty praise for the Buckeyes, comparing them to some of his best all-time shooting teams.

“They really do a good job of guys shooting shots that they can make, and they have good shooters. That was like us in 2009 and 1990. Those were two best shooting clubs I’ve ever had. Everybody could shoot, and they took good shots too. They knew their limitations – it’s a little bit of both. It’s a challenge playing them because man, they shoot the ball so well and turn you over,” Coach Williams says.

Turnovers have plagued the Tar Heels all season long, setting up easy buckets for opponents. But that’s not the only thing the Carolina skipper is hoping to improve upon this weekend.

In trademark style, Coach Williams says he wants to turn the basketball game into a track meet.

“We do have a lot of things that we have to work on. We’ve got to work on rebounding the ball, playing without turning the ball over, got to work on running because we’re not running any where near where we’d like to run. We have a lot of things that we’ve got to work on,” Coach Williams says.

James tied a career-high in scoring Tuesday night (UNC Athletics)

James tied a career-high in scoring Tuesday night (UNC Athletics)

Despite UNC’s decent numbers in the rebounding department, Coach Williams says he’s not totally convinced the Tar Heels are dominating enough on the boards either.

“With some exceptions, the other teams haven’t shot a great percentage against us. We still haven’t rebounded as well. I told you guys I thought we’d be a great rebounding team. We’ve been far from it. The numbers look good, but still, I believe what I see regardless of what the numbers are,” Coach Williams says.

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta says his bunch of Buckeyes rely on tight team chemistry on and off the floor to befuddle many of their opponents.

“You always worry about the dynamics of your team – not only on the court but in the locker room and off the court. I think from day one, we’ve had a very good blend in terms of guys getting along. I do believe summer trip probably helped that. I also think when you have really good guys with good character in your program, that also helps them connect,” Coach Matta says.

Sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks has established himself as the primary scoring threat for UNC, especially in the absence of an in-form Marcus Paige, who’s still struggling to find his shot.

But Meeks says the Tar Heels keep plugging away with rugged practices in hopes the game plan will start clicking for the entire team when it counts the most.

“I think our team is looking forward to it. I think it’s a big-time challenge for us. We haven’t beaten a ranked team yet this year. It would be a big win for us,” Meeks says.

Carolina will be hoping their dominance over Ohio State continues Saturday. The Tar Heels own a commanding 10-2 edge in the all-time series, including most recently, a 77-73 win in the 2009 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.


UNC Gets Back On Winning Track With Dominant Display

The No. 24 North Carolina men’s basketball team used Kennedy Meeks’ team-leading 18 points to down UNC-Greensboro , 79-56, Tuesday night inside the Greensboro Coliseum and improve to 7-3 on the season.

With the loss, the Spartans dropped to 4-7 overall.

***Listen to the story***

The Tar Heels sprung out to a quick 16-4 lead with 11:21 to go in the first half and never looked back from there with tenacious defense and efficient offense.

UNC head coach Roy Williams was in good spirits, calmly instructing his players on the sideline – seemingly in full teaching mode with the game well in hand. But the UNC Hall of Famer wasn’t pleased with everything. Coach Williams says his team’s 17 turnovers were discouraging.

“We made too many turnovers in the second half, but Kennedy [Meeks] and Joel [James] sort of dominated. We turned it over 17 times. Again, that’s too many turnovers,” Coach Williams says.

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

Every UNC player appeared fully engaged and locked in for the midweek tilt and even though Brice Johnson got into foul trouble, he stayed on the floor and produced later on.

Junior forward Joel James led the way for UNC in the first half with a season-high 8 points as Carolina headed to the locker room with a commanding 40-19 advantage.

James tied a career-high in scoring Tuesday night (UNC Athletics)

James tied a career-high in scoring Tuesday night (UNC Athletics)

Kennedy Meeks has been carrying the scoring load this season (Nick Vitali)

Kennedy Meeks has been carrying the scoring load this season (Nick Vitali)

In the second half, Meeks started to flex his muscles a bit more, flashing some athletic moves around the rim, but the sophomore says he wasn’t as happy with the defensive performance in the final 20 minutes.

“I think we held them to like 27-percent [shooting] in the first half, but we kind of let off with the 44-percent [shooting] in the second half. We just have to get better each day. Now we have to focus on Ohio State,” Meeks says.

Sophomore Isaiah Hicks provided some quality minutes off the bench, tallying 8 points and 6 rebounds. Junior guard Marcus Paige continued to struggle with his shot, missing his first five attempts from the field. But Paige says he believes his shots will start falling soon.

“I mean, it’s a little frustrating, but honestly, they felt good today. Some of these games earlier in the year have felt weird, but they all felt really good tonight. They were all back rim and right on. It was a little disappointing, but I’m not worried about it at all. The shot feels good,” Paige says.

The under-manned Spartans could do little to threaten the more talented Tar Heels, but former UNC player Wes Miller could use the contest as a measuring stick for his program going forward.

But as for UNC, the game was a chance to exhale and collect itself on the heels of a difficult loss at top-ranked Kentucky and to prepare for the impending challenge ahead.

Coach Williams is relishing an opportunity for his team to hit the practice courts hard this week. With no exams or classes to worry about, his players’ schedules are free.

“Now we get the chance to have some practices that will hopefully be long, long and long. We have no class – no classes to go to, not ‘class’. We’ve got a lot of ‘class’, but we need to get some work done the next couple days,” Coach Williams says.

Next up for the Tar Heels comes a Saturday meeting with the No. 12 Ohio State Buckeyes in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.



Tar Heels Look To Stop Spartans Tuesday Night

The No. 24 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 6-3 on the season, will look to recover from a difficult loss at top-ranked Kentucky with a comfortable victory at UNC-Greensboro Tuesday night at 7 p.m inside the Greensboro Coliseum.

***Listen to the story***

The Tar Heels will be facing a few familiar faces on the UNC-G bench Tuesday night.

Spartan skipper Wes Miller and assistant Jackie Manuel both played on the 2005 national championship-winning squad coached by none other than Roy Williams.

But don’t expect Coach Williams to ease up on his former players turned coaches, especially after being outplayed Saturday at Rupp Arena.

Roy Williams showing frustration (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams showing frustration (Todd Melet)

“They were far more superior on the defensive end than our offense was. I thought they dictated what we did on the offensive end with their athleticism, their quickness, strength and size. We didn’t do a very good job of scoring in the half court,” Coach Williams says.

The Tar Heels have plenty of room for improvement. Coach Williams says careless turnovers, excessive fouling and lack of physicality doomed UNC’s chances last weekend.

“I thought two big keys for us was the number of turnovers and the fact that we wanted to play without fouling. We let them shoot 31 free throws, and I’m not saying that’s the referees. I said ‘we’. They were much more aggressive getting the back to the basket. It’s a physical game. They played better and coached better,” Coach Williams says.

Junior guard Marcus Paige, who eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau at Kentucky, seemingly found his shot in the second half against the Wildcats, finding the basket from behind the arc to keep UNC within shouting distance.

But Coach Williams says he needs to be a more consistent offensive weapon for the Tar Heels.

“He made some shots. We’ve been talking about his shot a little bit. There’s nothing mechanically wrong with his shot, but he probably needs to get his feet set a little bit more. We need him to shoot the ball like that, but we need some other guys to step and make shots also. You’re not going to beat Kentucky at Kentucky when they’re a real good team shooting 38 percent in the second half,” Coach Williams says.

Marcus Paige makes a play at the basket (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige makes a play at the basket (Todd Melet)

UNC’s offensive efficiency has tended to improve in the second halves of games this season. A frustrated Paige says the team needs to find a way to put two halves of clean basketball together.

“I don’t think we need to rely on me, but I think I need to be a focal part of what we do in both halves. The coaches have talked about that. We don’t screen or move enough in the first half,” Paige says. “That’s why we take bad shots and have turnovers. When we settle down and run our stuff, the guys who we want to have the ball are touching the ball; we’re getting inside and also creating opportunities for me.  We just need to run our stuff better.”

As for UNC-G, the Spartans sport a disappointing 4-6 record on the young season, but they’re coming off an 80-79 road win at East Tennessee State.

The Tar Heels don’t have much head-to-head history against the Spartans, facing off for just the second time ever. UNC won the only previous meeting by an 81-50 margin in 2013.


Deeper, Stronger No. 1 Kentucky Handles Tar Heels 84-70

Boasting superior size, speed and strength, the Kentucky Wildcats handed UNC an 84-70 setback on Saturday in a men’s non-conference basketball game at Rupp Arena.

Willie Cauley-Stein starred for the No. 1 Wildcats in a brilliant all-around game with 15 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals and a pair of blocks. Devin Booker came off the bench to match Cauley-Stein in points, while Aaron Harrison added 14 for the 11-0 Wildcats.

No. 21 UNC, to its credit, hung around when it looked like the Tar Heels could be blown out in a few spots but ultimately fell to the deeper squad in dropping to 6-3 overall.

Brice Johnson led the Tar Heels with 15 points, while Marcus Paige heated up in the second half and finished with 14 including a 4 of 6 effort from behind the arc.

UNC’s best stretch came on an 8-0 run, capped by a Kennedy Meeks tip in that moved the Tar Heels within single digits at 66-57 late in the second half.

With just under five minutes remaining Cauley-Stein had a slam dunk and was the successful oop in an alley from teammate Trey Liles as the Wildcats finally pulled away for good.

The Tar Heels tried to play catch-up throughout and had their moments, as when Paige silenced crowd with a trey four minutes into the second half, but it only cut the ‘Cats lead to 59-43.

The biggest differences in the first half came from behind the arc, where the Wildcats were 6 of 12, and at the free throw line as they connected on 13 of 17 attempts. Kentucky continually went to the basket, continuing that trend in the second half, and finished 23 of 31 at the stripe.

The Tar Heels had just three attempts from long range. connecting on one and were 3 of 4 from the charity stripe as their lack of physical play cost the Heels.

Kentucky had 29 points from its backcourt compared to just 6 for UNC and also committed four fewer turnovers (6).

The Wildcats 15 points bulge at the break (49-34) would have been bigger if an Aaron Harrison long distance three had not rimmed out at the buzzer.

Still, Kentucky was in firm control as it was throughout the contest, shooting a blistering 56.3 percent from the field, compared to a decent 45 percent mark for the Heels.

A more serious concern for the Tar Heels was head coach Roy Williams, who appeared dazed for a few moments during the second half. It wasn’t clear if he had slipped on the floor or perhaps just suffered a dizzy spell or something akin to that.

Williams appeared to be OK when congratulating Kentucky players at the end of the contest, however and there was no further report if his health was an issue immediately after the game.


Underdog Tar Heels Take On Top-Ranked Wildcats

The No. 21 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 6-2 on the season, faces its toughest test of the season Saturday afternoon inside Rupp Arena. The No. 1 and undefeated Kentucky Wildcats are a force to be reckoned with.

***Listen to the story***

The head-to-head series between the winningest and third-winningest college basketball programs continues with the 33rd meeting this weekend.

UNC head coach Roy Williams says Brice Johnson’s dominant play on the boards will need to become a consistent feature of the team if the Tar Heels are going to take down elite opponents like Kentucky.

Johnson will need to physical Saturday (Todd Melet)

Johnson will need to physical Saturday (Todd Melet)

“We need Brice and Kennedy [Meeks] to rebound the ball like that. We still got to do a better job rebounding and boxing out. We were into it mentally. We’ve got to have that same kind of attitude every night,” Coach Williams says.

Coach Williams says he really got upset at Johnson for his poor play before his explosive game against ECU last weekend. But he says, at the end of the day, it’s Johnson who needs to demand more out of himself than anybody else.

“I’m getting to be old. I can’t stay mad all the dadgum time. He’s got be able to do that himself. His rebounding today [vs. ECU] was really impressive. He rebounded the ball in a crowd and didn’t act like a little wimp. He did better things defensively too. It does gnaw at me, but I want it to gnaw at him. If it gnaws at him, the results are a whole heck of a lot better,” Coach Williams says.

One talented player who still appears to be waiting in the wings is sophomore Isaiah Hicks. Coach Williams says he needs more from the 230-pound forward.

“I think he [Hicks] listened when I was telling those guys on the bench that we don’t need big guys to shoot jump shots. He took the ball to the basket. We need Isaiah to be a big-time player for us,” Coach Williams says.

Many have discussed the possibility of a smaller UNC starting lineup that would include two de facto point guards – Nate Britt and Marcus Paige. Would the Tar Heels ever consider such a lineup?

Assistant coach C.B. McGrath doesn’t rule it out.

“We talk about all those kind of things. Whether Nate’s played well enough to go into the starting lineup and move Marcus to the two, I don’t know. If the game’s on the line, Nate’s playing well and Marcus is shooting the ball, we’ll probably have Nate and Marcus in the game at the same time,” McGrath says.

Coach Williams isn’t opposed to applying the heat to his players. He’s continually called out the big men on UNC’s roster, pleading for them to step up.

“I’ve said the big guys have to step up. When they step up and be really big-time players, we’re really a good basketball team. That’s putting a lot of pressure on guys, but heck, it’s college basketball at the highest level. If you want to be good, your best players have to step up and play,” Coach Williams says.

John Calipari and Cauley-Stein (Chris Reynolds)

John Calipari and Cauley-Stein (Chris Reynolds)

The Tar Heels will definitely have their hands full against UK head coach John Calipari’s uber-talented roster that rivals an NBA team for size and length.

Coach Calipari has so much depth he employs a ‘platoon system’ that consists of shuffling alternate lineups on and off the floor to wear down opponents and get all of his potential NBA draft picks a chance to shine for scouts.

UNC junior forward Brice Johnson says juggling final exams doesn’t make the preparation any easier, but he’s confident his teammates will be fired up for the showdown Saturday.

“I have all week to prepare for these tests, and we have all week to prepare for Kentucky. We just have to even them out as much as we can, but put a little more into the academic side than the basketball side. By Saturday, we’ll be ready for it,” Johnson says.

UNC leads the all-time series 23-13 and won the most recent encounter, 82-77, in 2013.

But this time around, the up-and-down Tar Heels will be playing a part they’re not too familiar with – as heavy underdogs against the near-consensus national championship pick.


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


Brice Johnson Responds To Roy Williams’ Tough Challenge

The Carolina men’s basketball team’s toughness has been scrutinized this season, most notably, after ugly losses to Butler and Iowa. But junior forward Brice Johnson is doing his best to rectify the situation.

***Listen to the story***

Johnson’s explanation for his 19 points and career-high 17 rebounds in Sunday’s rout over ECU is simple. He played more minutes.

“For one, I wasn’t in foul trouble all night. That was the biggest thing. I could get in the groove and was able to stay on the floor a good period of time. I attribute it to that. The last couple games, I’ve been in foul trouble,” Johnson says.

Brice Johnson recorded a breakout performance Sunday (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson recorded a breakout performance Sunday (Todd Melet)

ECU head coach and former Carolina basketball player Jeff Lebo says he was pulling hard for a UNC win last Wednesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge if only to avoid an angry opponent for his Pirates.

UNC head coach Roy Williams agrees. The Tar Heels were ticked off with their performance against the Hawkeyes.

“Mentally, we were more into the game. Jeff [Lebo] and I talked before the game. He was pulling for us hard Wednesday night, because he’s a North Carolina graduate, but also he didn’t want us to be as mad as we were. I told him I agreed after the game. We had much more attention to detail today. In the first half, we had one turnover,” Coach Williams says.

That clean of a game is an encouraging sign for Coach Williams if the Tar Heels can keep it up, and that’s a big if, especially with the No. 1 team in the nation looming large on Saturday.

But for now, Johnson says he’s eager to continue stepping up as a key big man inside for Carolina. His 17 rebounds, the most since Tyler Zeller’s 22 in 2012, jumped off the stat sheet Sunday, but Johnson says he wants more.

“Well, I wanted 20, but it didn’t happen that way. It’s good I could help my team any way I could. That was the biggest way I could help my team. I’m really happy about that,” Johnson says.

Coach Williams credits what he calls one of the toughest practices his team’s ever faced as a key contributor to the focus and improved play last weekend.

Roy Williams doesn't like what he sees all the time (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams doesn’t like what he sees all the time (Todd Melet)

“It did simmer for another next 24 hours. We got after it as hard as anybody on this team has ever had at practice the day before a game. You can’t do the things rebounding-wise or the things one-on-one and selfishly like we did Wednesday night and be a good basketball team,” Coach Williams says.

Johnson’s explosive game didn’t surprise his coach. The Hall of Famer has thrown the gauntlet down all season, expecting his post players to dominate for the Tar Heels. Not surprisingly, when they’ve done so, UNC has fared well.

“I’ve said that since the start of the year. We have a couple of big guys that have to step up. When they step up and be big-time players, we’re really a good basketball team. That’s putting a lot of pressure on guys, but heck, it’s college basketball at the highest level. If you want to be good, your best player has to step up and play,” Coach Williams says.

Coach Williams and Tar Heel fans everywhere will certainly be hoping the big men can answer the bell in hostile Rupp Arena this weekend. They’ll have to or risk getting embarrassed.


UNC Dominates ECU In Season Best Shooting Percentage

The No. 12 North Carolina men’s basketball team dominated East Carolina 108-64 Sunday afternoon at the Dean E. Smith Center.

With the win, UNC improves to 6-2 and ECU drops to 4-5.

Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto led the Tar Heels with each scoring 19 points. Johnson led the team in rebounding and set a career high of 17 rebounds. Johnson’s rebounding record surpassed any Tar Heel from last season and this current season.

“We feel a heck of a lot better than we did Wednesday night,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says. “I think we invested a heck of a lot more these last couple of days. Mentally, we were more into the game.”

*Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks*

UNC came off a tough loss against Iowa Wednesday night with a season-low 27.9 percent from the floor, the lowest field goal percentage in a game since 2011. In an amazing turn of events, Carolina had a season-high shooting percentage against ECU, going 60 percent from the floor. Freshman Joel Berry shot 100 percent going 4-4.

“Yesterday we got after it probably as hard as anybody on this team has ever had to practice the day before a game,” Coach Williams says. “But you can’t do the things rebounding-wise and you can’t do the things one-on-one and selfishly like we did Wednesday night to be a good basketball team.”

UNC vs ECU 045Coach Williams says it was the little details such as fewer turnovers that led to a well-played game against ECU. UNC only had one turnover in the first half.

North Carolina led 48-29 at halftime on the strength of a 23-5 run beginning midway through the first half. Johnson rounded out the first half scoring 8 out of North Carolina’s final 10 points, 6 of which came after his own offensive rebounds.

Kennedy Meeks added 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Nate Britt finished with 10 points.

“We still have to do a better job rebounding and a better job boxing out, but we shared the ball. Twenty-seven assists for us shooting 60 percent for the game and, again, we were into it mentally and we got to have that same kind of attitude every night,” Coach Williams says.

UNC will continue its nonconference slate Saturday away from home against Kentucky at 12pm.