Roy Williams wins 900th with epic second-half comeback

The win over the 11th-ranked Seminoles further helps UNC's NCAA hopes

Fans return to the Dean E. Smith Center for a Tar Heels game Saturday. The limited crowd saw UNC beat No. 11 Florida State. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

CHAPEL HILL — All season long, fans weren’t allowed to attend UNC games in person out of fear that it would make them sick. For 20 minutes on Saturday afternoon, it appeared that North Carolina’s play on the floor, rather than any virus, would do just that.

With 3,200 fans in attendance — 15% of the Smith Center’s seating capacity, in compliance with the new executive order from the governor — the Tar Heels fell behind by 16 points against visiting Florida State in a lackluster first half.

“First half, we were about as ugly as we could be,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “Twenty-five percent from the floor, 14% from the 3-point line, turned it over about a million times.”

The Tar Heels had twice as many turnovers (14) as made shots (7) and hit just 2-of-14 from three in the opening 20 minutes.

Florida State trounced UNC in points off turnovers (19-5), points in the paint (22-8) and fast-break points (12-2) in the first half.

The Tar Heels came out of the locker room a different team, however. UNC scored the first 10 points of the half, tied the score 4 1/2 minutes into the half and built an eight-point lead to pull away from the No. 11 Seminoles.

The win helped Carolina hold onto a share of fourth place in the ACC. More importantly, it earned Williams the 900th win of his coaching career.

Three thoughts

1. The Tar Heels struggled with shot selection earlier in the season but got things on the right track when they started running their offense through the post. UNC had a regression in the first half, as the Heels shot as many 3-pointers (14) as 2-pointers (14). Williams was able to get the team to improve its shot selection in the second half. Carolina shot just nine threes, compared to 23 shots inside the arc. It’s no coincidence that, after hitting 25% from the field in the first half, the Heels improved to 50% in the second.

2. Part of the reason the Tar Heels got away from getting the ball inside is that the UNC’s big men struggled against Florida State’s waves of bigs coming off the bench. Sophomore Armando Bacot and senior Garrison Brooks both were held without a shot attempt in the first half, while freshman Day’Ron Sharpe missed all three of his attempts. The three finished the game 3 of 9 from the field for a combined 13 points and seven turnovers. Freshman Walker Kessler was the only UNC big to see any success.

3. North Carolina welcomed fans back to the Smith Center, with the crowd spread out throughout the 21,000-seat arena in groups of two. The Tar Heels reserved 75% of the seats for students, with the tickets given out in a lottery. The crowd was loud to start the game and during UNC’s second-half rally, chanting Kessler’s name at one point.

Number To Know

27-for-30 — The Tar Heels entered the game in last place in the ACC in free-throw percentage, shooting just 65% from the line. Carolina hit 27 of 30 against the Seminoles, however, including a perfect 14 of 14 in the second half.  Caleb Love hit 6 of 6, and Kerwin Walton and RJ Davis each hit all four of their attempts.

They Said It

“One time I was yelling out what play I wanted them to run, and they couldn’t hear me because the crowd was so loud, and that was a neat deal.”

— UNC coach Roy Williams

Player of the Game

Walker Kessler, Tar Heels — With Brooks, Bacot and Sharpe all struggling against the Seminoles’ deep front line, freshman 7-footer Kessler had a career game. He hit 9 of 10 from the field, including four dunks, for a career-high and team-best 20 points. He also led the Tar Heels with eight rebounds and four blocked shots.

Critical thinking

It didn’t take long for the crowd to shake off the rust and get back to midseason form. Florida State had a first-half fast break, and Walton stepped in front of a Seminole layup attempt, getting knocked over by the contact.

Fans broke out in a chorus of boos when referee Ted Valentine opted not to call a charge, instead letting the basket stand. Valentine, who earned the nickname “TV Teddy” due to his nose for the dramatic, then called a charge on Carolina freshman Sharpe on UNC’s very next possession, sending the crowd into apoplectic fits.

For one night, though, TV Teddy gets a pass. The sound of a crowd enraged at his antics has been absent for far too long.