North Carolina basketball isn't dead, folks.
With the 77-72 win over Florida State, the Tar Heels showed they aren't ready to just roll over. In a game filled with potential breaking points, the team never snapped. And for the first time this season, it gave 100 percent effort for the entire 40 minutes.
UNC is back in the mix and the victory over FSU will mark the turning point for this program.
The defense certainly wasn't without error, but it made up for the mental lapses with intensity and effort. FSU was killing it from downtown, shooting 11-of-22 from that range.
That kind of shooting would usually point to Carolina's demise. Instead, it countered the threes with dominant rebounding.
Florida State had just 19 boards on the night, with only six coming off the offensive glass. North Carolina finished with 22 defensive rebounds. The Tar Heels simply owned the glass on Saturday and they did it on both sides of the floor.
According to the official box score, UNC had 19 offensive rebounds on the day—matching FSU's total.
Not only was the rebounding impressive, but every loose ball seemed to go to the boys in blue. Sometimes, games come down to the 50-50 balls and the only way a team gets those is if it gives it everything it has.
The Tar Heels did just that.
On the offensive end, it wasn't pretty at times, but that should be expected against FSU's long and fast defense. UNC kept fighting, and P.J. Hairston was the guy to put it over the top.
It seemed as though every time Florida State started to gain momentum, Hairston was there to counter with a three or a monstrous dunk. Even more striking was the fact that most of his threes were contested and he showed no fear taking it to hole and jamming it home in traffic.
Over 28 minutes, Hairston was 9-of-14 from the floor and 4-of-9 from three for a game-high 23 points. He also added four rebounds, one assist and one block to his stat line.
Hairston was simply ballin'—there is no other way to put it.
Whether it's P.J. Hairston, Reggie Bullock or James Michael McAdoo, someone has to step up as "the man" in every game. And the team must find a way to get the ball to the hot hand.
That's exactly what it did on Saturday and the Tar Heels finally have an ACC win to show for it.
There must also be an energy guy that sparks the team with relentless effort. Against FSU, that player was Jackson Simmons and he may have earned himself playing time because of it.
Simmons celebrated his birthday with eight points, four offensive rebounds, one assist and one block in 15 minutes of action—the most he has played in two seasons at Chapel Hill. He was also a perfect 3-of-3 from the floor and 2-of-2 from the line.
Simmons may only be 6'7", 220 pounds, but it's tough to say anyone played a better 15 minutes at center this season.
In previous games, the team would slip and there would be nobody there to get the guys back on track. There is only so much Roy Williams can say. The team has to work it out on the floor and find someone to lean on through the hard times.
The Tar Heels finally seemed to grasp that concept on Saturday.
This isn't just about UNC's first ACC victory. It isn't about beating FSU on its home floor—the same place the Tar Heels lost 90-57 last season.
It's about this team finally buying in and playing together as one cohesive unit for a full 40 minutes.
This North Carolina squad turned a new chapter in its season story. Those of you that already put the book down, better pick it back up.
It's just starting to get good.
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