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Florida State implodes in second half, loses at UNC

North Carolina’s Leaky Black (1) battles for a loose ball with Florida State’s Sardaar Calhoun...
North Carolina’s Leaky Black (1) battles for a loose ball with Florida State’s Sardaar Calhoun (24) during the first half on Saturday, February 27, 2021 in Chapel Hill, N.C.(Robert Willett | rwillett@newsobserver.com)
Published: Feb. 27, 2021 at 7:12 PM EST
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WCTV) -- MJ Walker had been stuck at seven points away from 1,000 for his career for nearly two weeks. After being held scoreless against Pitt last Saturday and missing Wednesday’s game against Miami with an injury, the senior guard was still in search of those elusive seven points.

His moment finally came with under three minutes to play in the first half against North Carolina on Saturday. Balsa Koprivica stood near the top of the key looking for a passing lane with his right arm extending the ball high above his head. On the left wing, Walker motioned toward him, hinting at a dribble handoff but then made a hard backdoor cut to the rim. Koprivica found him inside for an easy layup. Walker was just two points away from 1,000.

On the next UNC possession, Koprivica blocked a shot inside on Day’Ron Sharpe and the ball bounced out to RayQuan Evans, who initiated the Florida State fast break. Walker waited at half court to Evans’ right, caught the pass, took one dribble and rose into a pull-up jumper just inside the arc. Splash.

Not only did he become the 47th player in Florida State basketball history to score 1,000 career points with that shot, but he also gave FSU a 16-point lead with 2:31 left in the first half, its largest lead of the game.

The Seminoles took a 41-29 lead into the locker room behind a stifling defensive performance. FSU forced UNC into 14 first-half turnovers, which were converted into 19 points, and held the Tar Heels to just 7-of-28 shooting.

The Seminoles were in control and would be one step closer to winning the ACC regular-season title for the second year in a row if they could hold on in the second half.

Then Florida State imploded. After committing just five first-half turnovers, FSU coughed the ball up 12 times in the final 20 minutes and was outscored 49-29 in the second half, losing 78-70 in Chapel Hill. The UNC win gave head coach Roy Williams his 900th career win.

The second half was a complete role reversal from the first half. UNC cut its number of turnovers in half over the final 20 minutes of action and shot 50% from the field. It also made 18 free throws in a row to finish the game, including a perfect 14-for-14 in the second half, while Florida State shot just 5-of-11 from the charity stripe over that stretch.

“They obviously regrouped at halftime,” FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton said after the game. “They were a lot more patient on offense. They did a tremendous job of executing the offense,” We got a lot of deflections and steals the first half, that really gave us an opportunity to have that lead. I thought the second half they were a lot more patient.

RaiQuan Gray led all FSU scorers with 17 points, but he also committed a season-high six turnovers in the game. Scottie Barnes (12) and Anthony Polite (10) also scored in double figures.

It was almost as if North Carolina beat Florida State at its own game. All season long, the Seminoles have overwhelmed teams with their superior depth and defensive pressure. They’ve created deflections with their abundance of size and length, have forced turnovers to get out in transition and have gotten contributions up and down a 10-deep rotation.

Florida State still had all of those things working for itself Saturday, but UNC just executed them better in the second half.

“I think you just have to give them credit. They did to us what we normally have been doing to other people,” Hamilton said. “They had an excellent game plan defensively. They were extremely aggressive. They were so aggressive that I thought it created indecision on some of our parts.

“Sometimes you just got to give teams credit. It’s not as much about what you didn’t do. It is what they did,” Hamilton added. “Sometimes you get outplayed. Today, we got outplayed by a team that really, really executed their game plan a lot better than we executed our game plan.”

Florida State missed an opportunity to sweep the season series against North Carolina for the first time since 1991-92. FSU also would have tallied its first-ever three-game winning streak in the series history.

With the loss, the Seminoles now drop back to a first-place tie with Virginia in the ACC standings. If Florida State and Virginia end the regular season tied, the Seminoles would receive the top seed in the ACC Tournament after beating the Cavaliers on Feb. 15.

Here are a few other quick observations from Saturday.

Barnes’ Defense

Barnes wasn’t as much of a factor offensively as he normally is even though he scored in double figures. His two assists on Saturday marked only the third time all season he’s been held to fewer than three assists.

While Barnes wasn’t as impactful as a facilitator, he played arguably his best defensive game of the season. His defense has been phenomenal all season, but his performance on that end of the court Saturday particularly stood out.

He had a season-high six steals, but even that eye-popping number doesn’t tell the whole story. In the 22 minutes he was on the floor, Florida State held UNC to an absolutely insane 69.6 points per 100 possessions. No other Florida State player had a defensive rating below 100.0.

For reference, Loyola-Chicago leads the country in team defensive rating at 86.4. Barnes was nearly 17 points per 100 possessions better than that Saturday.

Furthermore, he allowed an expected point total of just 5.7 when he was the primary defender, which was by far the lowest number among FSU players who were on the court for more than 10 minutes. Barnes’ 7.3 net-rating led all Seminoles.

Barnes’ defense Saturday was just the latest example of why he’ll be a surefire lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, should he enter. NBA teams will covet his combination of defensive prowess and playing ability.

Dominated on the glass

UNC dominated FSU on the glass, outrebounding the Seminoles 44-36 and corralling 20 offensive rebounds. Gray and Barnes each held their own on the glass, combining for 15 rebounds (8 offensive), but the Florida State frontcourt duo of Koprivica and Malik Osborne really struggled to keep North Carolina’s platoon of big guys off the boards.

Osborne had a defensive rebound rate (estimated % of opponent’s missed shots rebounded while on the floor) of 0%, while Koprivica’s 4.6% rating was well below where it needed to be.

All four of North Carolina’s top big men had an offensive rebound rating in double digits with Sharpe (26.3%) and Kessler (21.3%) dominating on the offensive glass in the time they spent on the court.

The frontcourt quartet of Sharpe, Kessler, Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot combined for 11 offensive rebounds. Leaky Black also hauled in a game-high four offensive rebounds.

FSU’s guards are culpable as well. The five FSU backcourt players that entered Saturday’s game combined for only three offensive rebounds.

North Carolina had several long offensive rebounds throughout the day, which falls directly on the guards’ failures to box out and pursue the ball.

The defensive glass has been an issue over the past few weeks for the Seminoles. Against a team like UNC that has been known for dominating the boards over the years, those issues were magnified.

Bench outplayed

FSU’s bench was outscored 37-30, only the fourth time all season that’s happened.

The main reason for that was Kessler, who came off the bench and was dominant with a season-high 20 points. He made all seven of his field-goal attempts in the second half and had little resistance from Koprivica or Osborne when getting to his spots.

Kessler frequently got great position deep on the block and was able to make quick post moves for scores. He also showed the ability to score from the perimeter, and he frequently beat FSU bigs down the court in transition for easy baskets.

Koprivica’s defense has been lauded this season for his ability to not only protect the rim but also switch out onto perimeter players and contain them off the dribble.

UNC is really the only team all season that has had the ability to match his size with multiple players. In the 24 minutes Koprivica played, North Carolina blitzed FSU for 122.5 points per 100 possessions.

Saturday showed that the sophomore big man can still add some strength to help him battle for position on the low block. If Florida State runs into a bigger team like North Carolina in the postseason, it could spell trouble for Koprivica.

Up Next

Florida State will head back home for a home game against Boston College on Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. That game will be shown on the ACC Network.