There are some sports truisms that are undeniably, well, true. Of the many coaching platitudes that I’ve heard over the years, none has stuck out quite like the idea that you must “finish strong.” While applicable to many different games, the phrase has a particular double meaning in the world of college basketball. By using the expression in this context, one could either be referencing the necessity of attacking the hoop and scoring with strength at the rim by going through contact (as opposed to “weak” fadeaways or finesse moves) or be noting the importance of ending the regular season on a high note to provide momentum going into postseason play.
Sunday’s game against Florida State marked the continuation of the Heels’ commitment to “finishing strong” in every sense. Before the game even began, students got in on the action, as they endured what may be the longest rendition of “Jump Around” in Smith Center history. Despite cramping calves and a lot of sweating, the fans in the risers pushed through the pain and danced right up until CBS mercifully allowed the game to begin. Perhaps the presence of head football coach Larry Fedora in the risers, donning a blue wig and his trademark visor, was enough to inspire the crowd to keep jumping.
The Heels started hot but fell behind by one about midway through the first half after settling for several jumpers in a row. Fortunately, Roy’s Boys then went on a 20-3 run. Roundly criticized by knowledgeable UNC fans earlier in the season for his weakness around the basket, James Michael McAdoo led the charge, scoring 11 points during the spurt, including three emphatic jams in traffic. The combination of McAdoo’s newfound ability to actually convert his monstrous dunk attempts and some torrid outside shooting by Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston ignited the crowd and paved the way for a nineteen-point halftime lead. The second half was much of the same, with the Heels ultimately putting away a twenty-one-point win.
Though the outcome was determined early on, the game did not lack for excitement. Unfortunately, a lot of the interesting action wasn’t really related to the game on the floor. Arena security has come under a lot of scrutiny in the ACC over the last week, with Mike Krzyzewski calling the measures taken by officials at John Paul Jones Arena inadequate to protect Duke’s players and coaches during the celebration following Virginia’s win on Thursday. While court rushing has been a common occurrence in the past few years (and particularly in the ACC this season), on Sunday, it was actually the referees mixing it up with the students. After making a number of questionable calls against the home team, a student in the risers and official Brian Kersey apparently had some heated exchanges that ended in Kersey demanding that arena security remove the fan. This interaction stands in stark contrast to one that took place at halftime of the Duke-UNC game back in February, when Blue Devils assistant coach Steve “Wojo” Wojciechowski charged at Kersey as the teams were leaving the floor, putting his forehead into Kersey’s and exchanging more than pleasantries. Wojo was neither ejected nor given a technical. Though it is unclear what exactly was said in both cases, it seems surprising that an official would feel more threatened by a fan standing in the student section than an assistant coach that seemingly attempted to physically intimidate him. Regardless, the whole incident provided a fun opportunity for students to debate what had actually been said and a chance for UNC fans to bash Kersey as a Duke homer.
The other major incident of note was related to recruiting. UNC is in hot pursuit of the top prospect in the class of 2013, Andrew Wiggins. Both of Wiggins’ parents attended Florida State, and it is well known that FSU is among the schools he is still considering (UNC, Kentucky, and Kansas are the others). With the Heels up by twenty at the end of the game, students in the risers began an “Andrew Wiggins” chant, hoping that CBS or ESPN might pick up on it to help push Wiggins to make a decision, if the game hadn’t already convinced him that Florida State was far inferior to Carolina. While student pitches to recruits are now a part of college basketball given the NCAA restrictions on universities, Roy Williams immediately chastised the entire student section for the cheer. Perhaps he was upset because Wiggins was not even in attendance, and another recruit, five-star G/F Justin Jackson, was sitting directly in front of the students. Getting yelled at by Roy Williams is not fun. It makes you feel like a five-year old kid that colored on the walls with permanent marker. It will be interesting to see what students do on Saturday night in light of Roy’s reaction, as Wiggins will actually be at the Smith Center for the UNC-Duke game.
Regardless of what happens on the recruiting trail or with the referees, this year’s team is putting together a great run to end the regular season. As postseason play begins, we travel into another dimension, where drama is constant, dreams come true, and anything can happen. March Madness is just around the corner, and the Heels are finishing strong. They’re ready.
All Photos in Hoop It Up are provided by Todd Melet.