The Tar Heels weren’t quite good enough at Florida State.

The effort they seemed to lack in two of the last three games was there, especially in the second half. But Carolina still needs to play better defense to keep from falling into a hole on the road, and must be smarter with the ball to complete the inevitable comeback.

The Seminoles are a serious team this season because their defense matches their offense. They held the Heels to 38 percent shooting in the first half while making half of their 18 three-pointers. Carolina gave them too many open looks by not closing out quickly enough on their outside shooters to fall 11 behind at intermission.

Still, in such an up-and-down game, you knew the rally was coming. That’s a trademark we’ve become used to. The defense stiffened and FSU’s shooters got tight and were forced to go inside, where UNC could have – and probably should have – won the game.

But too many mistakes on crucial possessions, like hurried shots and bad fouls that put the ‘Noles in the bonus early while Carolina never got there in either half, attempting only nine free throws compared to 22 for the home team.

Joel Berry was fabulous in the second half, but he is still a small guard trying to take the ball to the hole against much taller defenders. How much more effective would he be if Carolina kept Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson as other options down the stretch? If that last shot had gone in, we wouldn’t be making this point, but it didn’t and a first ACC loss followed.

Now, the Tar Heels have to go to Virginia, which may not be as talented as Florida State but is even more tenacious on defense, and Carolina has not played as well in Charlottesville as it has in Tallahassee, where Roy’s boys had won three of their seven straight victories over FSU.

As with Wake Forest, the inside play of the three freshmen was mostly ineffective, as Sterling Manley got the only points from the bigs. The Tar Heels will never have the same inside game this season that they have had the last two years. But the young trio is now facing better opposition and tougher competition from well-coached ACC teams.

It’s only going to get more difficult in their baptism by fire. Winning at UVa will require two good well-played, well-coached halves, not one.

(Photo via Todd Melet)