UNC Gets Big Surprise Over Florida State’s No. 11

Walker kessler (Photo: USA TODAY Sports)

CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina – North Carolina snapped a 10-game losing streak to AP-classified opponents with a strong second-half performance Saturday, rebounding from a 16-point deficit to defeat No. 11 Florida State, 78 -70, for his biggest win of the season.

If the Tar Heels (15-8, 9-5 ACC) were at their worst in the first half, committing 14 turnovers and shooting 25%, then they were certainly at their best after halftime. UNC edged out the Seminoles, 30-11, to open the second half and build their biggest lead at 59-52. The Tar Heels forced 12 turnovers and held the ACC’s top team at 35.0% in the second half to wrap up a week-long rollercoaster and nearly seal their invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

FSU cut their deficit to 61-59 with 5:03 to play, but Kerwin Walton responded with a triple five seconds later and the Tar Heels made all of their free throws down the stretch to secure the victory. UNC shot 27 of 30 from the charity line, including a 14 of 14 effort in the second half.

The Tar Heels shot 50% after halftime and 38.3% for the game (21.7% 3FG), while the Seminoles hit 38.8% (29.4% 3FG).

The Tar Heels trailed 41-29 at halftime, making this comeback the fifth-largest halftime deficit to be overcome in a victory in Smith Center history. It was the biggest halftime return at home for UNC since it recovered from a 13-point deficit against Georgia Tech on February 15, 2006.

Kessler Advance
UNC’s resurgence late in the first half coincided with Walker Kessler’s insertion into the lineup. The 7-footer freshman was the best player on the court from that point forward, setting his career highs with 20 points on 9 of 10 shots, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.

His game was a significant development as forwards Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot and Day’Ron Sharpe combined for 13 points on 3 of 7 shots.

No. 900 for Roy Williams
The Hall of Fame head coach won the 900th game of his career in the 500th home game on Saturday. Williams is 900-260 in 33 seasons as head coach and is now two wins away from tying Bobby Knight for third on the all-time win list. He won 900 games faster than any of the three coaches who have reached that benchmark.

The 18-year-old UNC head coach improved to 443-57 all-time at home, including a 242-41 record at Chapel Hill.

Turnover investment
UNC’s 14 turnovers before halftime represent the most turnovers in the middle of this season (13 vs. Stanford, 2H) and are the most consistent since he committed 15 in the first half at Georgia Tech on Feb. 16. 2010 FSU scored 19 points of those losses in building a 41-29 lead at halftime.

However, it was the Seminoles’ turn in the second half. FSU had more turnovers (12) than field goals (11) after halftime, setting up a strong UNC shutdown.

For the game, UNC scored 15 points from 17 FSU turnovers. The Seminoles scored 25 points on 21 UNC turnovers.

Highlight the game

Fans come back
North Carolina Executive Order 195 allowed for a limited fan return this weekend, as indoor stadiums with at least 5,000 seats would be allowed 15 percent capacity. That was equivalent to approximately 3,200 fans at the Dean E. Smith Center. With 75% of that total coming from the student lottery system, the Tar Heels had a real home court advantage for the first time this season.

Until next time
UNC is back on the road after a four-game home fight with a trip to Syracuse on Monday (7 p.m. / ESPN). The Orange have lost two in a row to fall to 13-8 (7-7 ACC) entering the final week of the regular season.

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