CHAPEL HILL – The North Carolina men’s basketball team toughed out  Florida State 81-75 in an intense contest Monday night at the Donald L. Tucker Center to improve to 18-7 overall and 8-4 in the ACC.

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With the loss, the Seminoles dropped to 15-11 on the year and 6-8 in conference action.

The Tar Heels earned their first victory of the season when trailing at the half thanks to some spirited play by Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson that kept Carolina in the game in the waning minutes of the first half. Meeks finished with a career high 23 points while Johnson tallied 14 points of his own.

Meeks had a career night. (Todd Melet)

Meeks had a career night. (Todd Melet)

Carolina came out sluggishly, committing careless turnovers and shooting a woeful 1-10 from the field. FSU took full advantage by sprinting out to a 17-3 lead. Fouls piled up for both teams early on with James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto getting into foul trouble. McAdoo, held scoreless, was completely taken out of the game by whistles, eventually bowing out of game late in the second half.

“It was about as bizarre a game as I’ve ever been involved with early. There was nothing that we did that was very good. […] But our guys just sort of hung in there. We started to get a couple plays made by some guys off the bench,” Coach Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame press conference***

The Tar Heels battled on by dominating the glass, eventually claiming their first lead of the game at 57-55 midway through the second half. From there, Paige took over, knocking down shot after shot like he does so often, saving his best for the closing half.

The foul shooting problems continued for the Tar Heels, who managed to go only 12-20 from the line, a 60 percent clip.

Ian Miller led the scoring charge for the Seminoles with 22 points , but it wasn’t enough to overcome the determined overall Carolina team effort on this night.

McAdoo won the opening tipoff, but Carolina failed to convert on the first few possession of the contest. Florida State’s Miller scored the first points of the game to give his team the 2-0 lead with 18:21 to play in the first half.

With the Tar Heel offense out of sync, FSU took full advantage, and when Miller’s three-pointer found the nets, the Seminoles snagged the 7-0 lead.

Kennedy Meeks scored Carolina’s first points of the game to reduce the deficit down to 9-2, but Miller could not miss. The senior guard nailed another three-pointer to extend the cushion out to 12-2 with 16:46 on the first half clock.

J.P. Tokoto picked up his second foul less than five minutes into the game when a timeout was called. The Seminoles were leading 12-3. Carolina was shooting an astonishing 1-10 from the floor.

Joel James failed to get an inbound pass by Aaron Thomas, and he converted the steal with a basket. Head Coach Roy Williams was forced to call a timeout with 13:38 to play and the Seminoles leading 17-3.

Out of the timeout, Brice Johnson scored inside and picked up a foul. He made the point after to reduce the deficit down to 17-6. With 11:07 to play in the opener, Carolina found themselves trailing 21-6.

Johnson slam (Todd Melet)

Johnson slam (Todd Melet)

More bad news followed for the Tar Heels with McAdoo and Tokoto both picking up their second fouls midway through the first half. Meanwhile, Florida State’s Miller and Thomas continued to double as premier scoring threats.

Carolina’s Leslie McDonald worked his way to the free throw line and made both shots to close the gap to 22-10 with 8 :51 left on the first half clock. A beautiful pass from Tokoto to Johnson beat the Seminole zone defense and cut the lead down to 23-14.

With 6:03 to play in the first half, FSU Head Coach Leonard Hamilton took his first timeout with the Seminoles holding a 25-16 advantage. The defensive intensity for the Tar Heels was picking up, stymieing the FSU attack to creep back into the contest.

Johnson was helping to keep the Tar Heels in the game, even getting Carolina to within five points, but Thomas nailed a jumper to extend the margin back out to seven points at 27-20 with under five minutes left in the half.

McAdoo was furious when a third foul was whistled on him. He came to the bench asking Coach Williams what he did wrong. The Seminoles were leading 28-20 at the 3:57 mark.

Johnson dunked a basket and Kennedy Meeks made a jumper to reduce the FSU lead down to 32-25 with 3:10 remaining in the half.

***Listen to the call by the Tar Heel Sports Network’s Jones Angell***

Meeks responded again with a more active pace and a score to get the Tar Heels within 34-31 with seconds to go, and Meeks made a closing layup to score his thirteenth point of the game and place the halftime score at 36-33.

The second half got underway with Meeks picking up where he left off at the end of the first half with strong play around the rim. Carolina was trailing 46-43 after FSU was called for goal tending on a McDonald drive.

Florida State’s Miller sniped a three-pointer from way outside to extend the home team’s advantage back out to 49-43. Meeks and Johnson found ways to score again to carry the offensive load for the Tar Heels. With 14:08 remaining in the game, the Seminoles were clinging to a 51-49 lead.

Michael Ojo dunked one through the rim for Florida State, but Paige drove inside for a score for Carolina on the ensuing possession. Britt found a gap in the Seminole defense and layed one in to tie the game at 53 points with 12:04 to play.

Desmond Hubert contributed a put-back slam to spur on the Carolina offense. The game was knotted up at 55-all with 10:32 remaining in the contest.

Carolina spurted out to a 62-57 advantage thanks to the first three-pointer of the contest for the Tar Heels with under 10 minutes left in the game that was characterized by an accelerating pace in the second half.

Paige, coming alive in the second half per usual, hit another deep shot from behind the arc to give Carolina the 65-59 lead with 8:14 to play.

Paige and Tokoto scramble for loose ball. (Todd Melet)

Paige and Tokoto scramble for loose ball. (Todd Melet)

Paige was up to ten points in the second half when he tallied another made jumper to his stat line. At the 6:17 mark, Carolina maintained a 67-61 edge. Florida State worked its way to the foul line, but only made one. But the red-hot Paige was pacing the Tar Heels, knocking down another three-pointer to post the 70-64 UNC lead with under 5:39 to play.

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With 3:18 to play, Carolina was clinging to a 70-67 edge as the offense was stalling out at the wrong time. Meanwhile, the fouls kept flowing from the Tar Heel defenders, sending the Seminoles to the line with prime chances to seize control of the game.

Carolina managed to salt away the victory in the waning minutes, despite continued foul shooting problems and shocking free throw miss by Paige in a crucial moment.

Next up for the Tar Heels will be a home game against No. 5 Duke Thursday night in the Smith Center.

Click here for the complete game photo gallery.

Final Box Score