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North Carolina pulled off the kind of comeback that could change the course of its season. The Tar Heels rallied from down 16 to No. 11 Florida State for a 78-70 victory before a spirited crowd in the Dean E. Smith Center for the first time this season.
It was the 900th career win for coach Roy Williams.
It was their first win over a ranked team in four tries and just their second Quad 1 victory in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). After having their NCAA tournament worthiness rightfully questioned following an 83-70 loss to Marquette on Wednesday, the Tar Heels gave a performance that made it okay to believe in them again.
Carolina erased a 12-point halftime deficit by scoring on eight of its first nine possessions to start the second half. Freshman center Walker Kessler, who started the second half for Armando Bacot, led the charge for the Tar Heels. He scored eight of his career-high 20 points during the opening five minutes and punctuated it with a dunk that gave UNC its first lead 46-44 since the opening minutes of the game.
Kessler quickly endeared himself to the crowd, a majority of which were students, with blocked shots, face-up jumpers and drop-step dunks. He was an unlikely spark, who may have been playing more minutes just because of Bacot’s foul trouble in the first half.
It didn’t matter why he was out there though, just that he performed. At one point in the second half, the Smith Center crowd began chanting, “Wal-ker, Kess-ler.”
The Tar Heels definitely got a boost from the crowd, which the university didn’t announce it would allow until Thursday amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Once the state announced it was easing restrictions and permitting 15 percent attendance for indoor arenas, UNC came up with a plan to allow 75 percent of its tickets, about 2,400, to go towards students.
Here are updates from earlier:
Heels energized by Kessler, crowd
Freshmen center Walker Kessler has a carer-high 18 points as the Tar Heels lead FSU 59-54 with 7:58 remaining. Kessler has scored 12 in the second half to power Carolina’s rally from down 12 at halftime.
Since facing its biggest deficit at 39-23, the Heels have outscored the Seminoles 36-15. FSU has played as careless as UNC did in the first half with 10 second half turnovers.
Noles lead at halftime
FSU is up 41-29 at halftime thanks in part to holding UNC to a season-low tying 25 percent shooting from the field. The Heels also shot 25 percent for a half in its loss at Virginia.
Carolina isn’t helping itself much with 14 turnovers -- one game after having 19 turnovers in its loss to Marquette -- which has led to 19 FSU points. Some have been careless, like Walker Kessler being stuck in the air with no where to go and trying to force a pass. Many have been because of the length of FSU’s defense getting deflections and getting into passing lanes.
The Noles were led in scoring by RayQuan Gray’s nine points. Kessler led the Heels with six points.
Florida State shutting down inside game
The Seminoles reeled off a 14-2 spurt after the Heels made the first two baskets of the game. FSU’s size has nullified the frontcourt advantage Carolina normally enjoys against most teams. The trio of Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot and Day’Ron Sharpe are scoreless and just a combined 0-for-2 from the field.
The Noles are currently on a 7-0 run and lead 23-14 with 7:23 left in the first half.
North Carolina: Caleb Love, Kerwin Walton, Leaky Black, Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot
Florida State: RayQuan Evans, RaiQuan Gray, M.J. Walker, Balsa Koprivica, Wyatt Wilkes