CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Dwayne Bacon scored 18 points and Jonathan Isaac recorded his third double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds), but it was the trio of Joel Berry (26 points), Justin Jackson (22) and Isaiah Hicks (22) that helped 11th-ranked North Carolina (16-3, 4-1 ACC) emerge with a 96-83 victory in the Dean E. Smith Center over the ninth-ranked visiting Seminoles (16-2, 4-1 ACC) in a battle for supremacy in the Atlantic Coast Conference on Saturday afternoon.
Bacon extended his double-digit scoring streak to 27 consecutive games as he knocked down 7-of-16 from the field and 3-of-8 from beyond the arc. Isaac emerged with his fourth double figure scoring performance in ACC action and 11th on the campaign by virtue of hitting 6-of-11 from the floor, which included a team-high two 3-pointers. Isaac was also a force on the boards with 12 rebounds, grabbing 11 defensive boards, as he finished one short of his season high in rebounds.
Terance Mann and PJ Savoy, who contributed 10 points each, were also instrumental in Florida State’s offensive success. Mann knocked down 4-of-7 field goals, hit 2-for-4 at the free throw line, and pulled down five rebounds (two offensive). Savoy anchored the Seminoles’ bench with double figures, hitting 4-of-6 from the floor, including a pair of 3-pointers, while climbing the glass for three rebounds.
Junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes handed out a game-high six assists to go along with six points, quarterbacking a Florida State offensive attack that was 31-of-67 (46.3%) from the field and 9-of-28 (32.1%) from beyond the arc. While the Seminoles shot well throughout the contest they struggled from the free throw line, hitting just 12-of-26 (46.2%), while North Carolina managed to convert 26-of-37 (70.3%) at the charity stripe.
“I thought North Carolina came out extremely energized and that Isaiah Hicks was very aggressive early in the game which put us back on our heels a little bit,” said Leonard Hamilton. “I thought we did a poor job of responding to the level of energy that North Carolina played with early. We settled down a little bit and made a run. But obviously anytime you shoot as poorly as we did from the foul line against a team that is really energized, it makes it very challenging. That is a team that is a very aggressive team and you have to give them a lot of credit. They deserved the victory.”
Facing only its fourth deficit at the intermission, 50-41, Florida State clawed its way to within five by scoring 15 of the first 24 points in a 5:06 stretch of the second half. Rathan-Mayes began the rally with a 3-pointer and Isaac followed by scoring seven straight for the Seminoles who sliced North Carolina advantage to 58-52.
Hicks pushed the Tar Heel lead to seven, but back-to-back dunks by Jarquez Smith and Mann fired up the Florida State offense which trimmed the margin to 59-56.
Jackson was responsible for two 3-pointers, highlighting a 12-2 North Carolina run that stretched the Tar Heel lead back to double figures, 71-58, with 11:34 remaining. Isaac got the Seminole offense back on track with a four-point play on an assist from CJ Walker.
A steal and dunk by Mann, coupled with a free throw by Smith allowed Florida State to trim the margin to 73-67 at just over the midway point of the half. The Seminoles continued to make up ground on North Carolina, using a three-point play by Walker and a long distance conversion by Bacon to pull within three, 76-73, with 7:56 remaining.
North Carolina countered six points and a blocked shot from Bacon with five points, two rebounds and a steal by Theo Pinson as it regained a double figure lead 91-80. The Tar Heels scored five of the final eight points to complete the victory and move into a first place tie for the league lead in the standings with Florida State.
After a sluggish start which resulted in seven unanswered North Carolina points, the tandem of Michael Ojo and Isaac provided five quick points on back-to-back possessions as the Seminoles trailed 9-5. The Tar Heel lead eventually grew to 20-11, but a bucket by Isaac and two free throws from Trent Forrest made for a seven-point advantage, 22-15.
Savoy kick started the Florida State offense into high gear with a 3-pointer and following four points by Mann and a dunk from Savoy the game reached a 27-27 tie. The Seminoles used that momentum along with Bacon and Walker to assume their first lead, 29-27, with 7:12 left in the first half.
A back-and-forth battle for the lead ensued between the two teams, with neither able to lead by more than three, before five straight points by Berry extended the North Carolina advantage to 42-37. Florida State amped up its defensive efforts and used buckets by Savoy and Ojo to move within two, 43-41, before a 7-0 run by the Tar Heels closed out the opening half.
“There is no question that Carolina is a very good basketball team,” added Hamilton. “They are one of the top two or three teams in our league. But what is happening is that this is an ACC race this year where when the ball goes up, rank doesn’t really seem to matter. You are going to have hard fought games regardless of who you play and that is just the nature of this league. It is a new ACC. There are no longer just two or three dominant teams.”
The Seminoles return to action on Wednesday, Jan. 18, when they host Notre Dame at the Donald L. Tucker Center at 7 p.m. The home stand wraps up on Saturday, Jan. 21, in a clash with Louisville at 2 p.m.