UNC pounds FSU to open ACC Tourney

North Carolina guard Elliot Cadeau (2) passes the ball as Florida State forward Jamir Watkins (2) defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinal round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON—The North Carolina Tar Heels weren’t taking anything for granted in their ACC Tournament opener.

The Heels entered as the top seed after winning the regular season championship outright. They were facing a ninth-seeded FSU team that they’d swept in the regular season.

Despite that, North Carolina dialed in and ran the Seminoles out of the gym, cruising to a 92-67 blowout in the first ACC Quarterfinal.

“It just felt like we were the underdogs,” said Harrison Ingram. “We were number one during the ACC regular season, but people still doubt us. People aren’t picking us. They aren’t believing.”

Carolina set out to make believers of everyone, starting with a physical Florida State squad.

“I love it,” Ingram said. “That’s my type of game. It’s chippy and pushing and talking. The coaches were  talking. I love it.”

The Tar Heels got the last word, going on a 26-11 run to close out the first half. The Heels dominated the boards, outrebounding the Seminoles, 48-22 and winning points in the paint by a 46-24 margin. Armando Bacot had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Ingram just missed with 9 points and 10 boards.

While overpowering Florida State down low, the Tar Heels also ran the Noles out of the building, getting six steals and dominating fast-break points, 26-8.

“We specifically talked about that prior to the game,” coach Hubert Davis said. “That what should and needs to ignite us is our effort on the defensive end. … Our pace, that’s where I felt like our pace got to where it needed to be with our guards, their ability to push the ball, bigs like Armando running down the middle of the floor. Our pitch-aheads were good. But it starts with defense and rebounding.”

RJ Davis led all scorers with 18, but it was UNC’s depth that overwhelmed the Noles. Elliot Cadeau had 8 points and 6 assists, while diving on the floor to get loose balls, setting the tone early.

“It’s infectious,” Davis said. “I think Ellie did a good job of just diving on loose balls, getting the 50/50 balls. At the same time, he made it easier for his teammates.”

“When he dove on the floor he really got us going,” Bacot agreed. “I thought in the first four to six minutes we were kind of not doing our best defensively, then after that we really got it going after that.”

Seth Trimble also came off the bench to provide a spark, scoring 12 points, including a resounding dunk that brought the crowd to its feet.

“That type of energy and effort coming off the bench, that’s a huge benefit for us,” said Hubert Davis.

The Tar Heels now play Friday in the first ACC semifinal, against the winner of Wake Forest-Pitt.