CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina found energy from its full-court pressure. The 17th-ranked Tar Heels sure needed that jolt to win their Atlantic Coast Conference opener.
RJ Davis scored 27 points and North Carolina ran off 22 unanswered points in the second half to rally past Florida State 78-70 on Saturday.
Armando Bacot added 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Tar Heels (7-1, 1-0), who trailed by 14 early after the break after managing just one field goal over nearly 11 minutes of game action. But on a day when the Tar Heels struggled to make outside shots, UNC used the full-court pressure to take the Seminoles (4-3, 0-1) out of sync and force turnovers.
“It seemed like we were a step slow on both ends of the floor and just weren’t getting the loose balls, weren’t getting the rebounds, weren’t finishing around the basket, weren’t making open shots,” coach Hubert Davis said.
That drove up the pace of play, and finally the Tar Heels started giving their home crowd a reason to roar.
Seth Trimble's transition layup finally tied it at 56-all, then freshman Elliot Cadeau followed with the go-ahead layup at the 7:24 mark. And then there were the baskets coming off FSU miscues, notably when FSU's Jamir Watkins tried to inbound the ball to Darin Green Jr. — only to see Green stumble in the paint and leave Davis alone to grab it and score a layup.
“All that stuff kind of gave us a jump and a boost,” guard Cormac Ryan said.
Watkins scored 17 points to lead FSU, which made 12 of 28 3-pointers. But the Seminoles missed nine straight shots and went scoreless for nearly six minutes as UNC pushed ahead for good.
“They upped the pressure, created some indecision on our part, and we didn't do a very good job handling it," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said, adding: "I thought our kids fought, but I thought Carolina's execution offensively and defensively was a lot better than we were today.”
FSU: The Seminoles beat then-ranked Colorado for the Sunshine Slam title on Nov. 21, but followed by blowing a 17-point lead in the final 7:53 to lose at home to Georgia on a late jumper Wednesday. They used an 18-2 run that included three 3s from Green to take a 45-31 lead before UNC made its run.
UNC: The Tar Heels were coming off a win against No. 10 Tennessee in the ACC/SEC Challenge on Wednesday, which included scoring 61 first-half points. The offense didn't come as easily, but the Tar Heels again helped themselves by getting to the line; they made 25 of 31 in this one — including 20 of 25 after halftime — after making 32 of 38 against the Vols.
FSU lost guard Cam'Ron Fletcher late with an injury to his right knee, the same one that sidelined him at midseason last year. He went down with 4:41 left before being helped to his feet by two teammates while putting no weight on his right leg. FSU's entire team soon huddled around him in the paint before he was helped to the tunnel.
Hamilton said afterward it appeared to be a significant injury.
Davis is the first UNC player with three straight games of 27-plus points since Joseph Forte in 2001.
FSU: The Seminoles host South Florida next Saturday.
UNC: The Tar Heels face fifth-ranked and reigning NCAA champion Connecticut in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.
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