Vince and the 1997 Tar Heels started 0-3 in the ACC before making the Final Four.
No, I wasn’t surprised what happened at Florida State. I’ve played, coached and watched so much Carolina Basketball over the years — I’m never surprised at what the Tar Heels can do.
Now, I knew that would be a tough win down there. That’s a good basketball team, with great guards and good wing players. They’re well-coached, and it’s always fun in Tallahasse.
After Thursday night, with a bad finish, to muster up the confidence needed to win on Saturday was impressive. I’m not sure how many more teams are going to win in Tallahassee, so I’m really glad we did.
We played with more toughness, and you have to credit the coaching staff after two losses and things not turning out the way we wanted going down the stretch in our first two ACC games.
You know, in Coach Smith’s last season, we started off 0-3 in the ACC and might have been 0-4 if we hadn’t rallied from nine points down against N.C. State at home. The team has to believe in your judgment as a coach, and Coach Smith told our guys that year that they weren’t a bad basketball team, that we were better than our record and there was still a lot of basketball left to be played. And you remember what happened! (Carolina won 16 straight games, won the ACC Tournament and reached the 1997 Final Four).
Our team believed in Coach Smith, as this team believes in Coach Williams. Winning a big game on the road really builds confidence, even more than at home because, like I said, Florida State is not going to lose too many more games in their arena. And the way we did it will build even more confidence. We were down late, but we made the plays. Marcus (Paige) made a great defensive play after Jackson Simmons had his only turnover.
And how about that kid! Where did he come from? I think we had him at center at the end of the game. But, you know, I’ve since learned that he holds the record for career rebounds in North Carolina high school basketball.
Coach Williams did a tremendous job of adjusting the game plan and I look for that to continue. He’s doing a good job taking advantage of everyone’s skills, and it’s going to be one of those years.
When we had to make plays we made them. PJ was incredible. People say he’s just a shooter, but he’s much more than that. He’s so strong, can put it on the floor and, defensively, he can be off the charts if he keeps improving.
He had it going that day and we got him the ball. I think that’s the way it’s going to be. Whoever has it that night, we’ll be looking to him and try to get him the ball. Some nights it may be Reggie, James Michael or even Marcus.
This isn’t a typical Carolina team in the sense that we want to play our way, no matter what the other team does. We took what Florida State gave us and didn’t force the issue, made the plays that were there.
Carolina fans are used to having a team with set positions. We got a lot of guys who can play different positions and do a lot of things. I believe that’s what we’re going to do.
But we have to do it with confidence so it looks like we know what we’re doing out there. That’s going to take some time — it’s not a typical Carolina team with our system of the 1 through 5 men.
Normally, I’d want to get right back on the court after such a big win. But this staff is still teaching, and any time we can get practice under our belts will make us better. We’re still creating good habits.
Phil Ford was a three-time All-American at UNC, 1978 ACC Player of the Year and went on to be the NBA Rookie of the Year and an NBA all-star.