FSU Tops UNC: 3 Game-Changing Plays

Florida State came into this game with no Scottie Barnes, no Assistant Coach Charlton Young, Anthony Polite was battling a cold and didn’t play as much as normal, and MJ Walker rolled his ankle midway through this game. Anthony Harris ended up playing in his first game for UNC in over a year after tearing his ACL last season and gave them good minutes. Yet FSU was able to come away with an 82-75 win, and seemed to have control over the game most of the way. Yeah, there were times where UNC was able to get it down to just a single possession, and take the lead occasionally, but the ‘Noles led for 84% of the game. This was Florida State’s 20th straight ACC home win. The ACC record is 26, and FSU has 6 ACC home games left on the schedule, barring cancelations or reschedules.

Without Scottie Barnes, RaiQuan Gray and RayQuan Evans were able to handle the ball control duties and do it well. We’ll get into their stats in a minute, but their fingerprints were all over this game. MJ Walker was fantastic. FSU was efficient on offense again, and this is the best the offense has ever looked under Coach Hamilton. Florida State was even able to out-rebound UNC, only the second game all season they’ve been beaten on the glass. How FSU played their bigs was superb, and our big man combination of Balsa Koprivica, RaiQuan Gray, Malik Osborne, and Tanor Ngom were giving them problems all game. Some people were even starting to take notice.

Florida State could not have played much better this game. A couple dumb turnovers here and there, sure. Some miscommunications on defense to leave a shooter open, it happens. The gameplan of swallowing the middle of the paint to really limit their bigs was the main focus and they didn’t stray from it. Even when Florida State was getting being on pick-and-roll, swing, hi-lo set repeatedly in the first half, FSU stuck with the gameplan of switching and pinching and it worked.

Before we get to the plays, some box score notes.

As mentioned earlier, Florida State was able to win the rebounding battle, even if it was just 30-29. UNC got a couple more offensive rebounds (13-9), but limiting UNC to that few offensive rebounds is a win in itself. UNC also won the second chance point battle, but it was just marginally at 14-11. Those are ways you beat UNC, you don’t have to beat them in every rebound statistic, just be competitive with it. Turnovers were about even at 17 for FSU and 14 for UNC, but the points off of turnovers swung in Florida State’s direction at 22-20. FSU outshot UNC from the floor (48.0% to 43.5%), from 3 (50.0% to 41.9%) and the FT line (96.3% to 78.9%).

The ‘Noles may have shot 13 more free throws, essentially doubling up UNC in attempts, but the fouls weren’t that much of a difference at 16 for FSU and 20 to UNC. It was just an entirely different mindset from both teams on how to attack. When UNC got inside, it was a lot of post-ups and quick hi-lo passes. Florida State was able to play those straight up and not bring their hands down on top of the ball to draw the foul. Florida State attacked the inside time after time on drives, forcing their guards to overhelp and reach, their bigs to slide over and chase blocks, and on-ball defenders to be running on their heels. The offense looks so much better these two games because of his often and how willing Florida State is to just get downhill. And all that talk about people being worried about Florida State’s free throw shooting at the beginning of the season, FSU is 37/38 combined from the stripe in their last two games. It helps to make those chances when you get there.

MJ Walker led the way with 21 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals, adding on 4/5 shooting from 3. He was superb in the first half, and was the ‘Noles single biggest source of offense for most of the game. He rolled his ankle midway through the game and wasn’t quite the same after returning, but the threat of him was huge all game.

Walker may have had the most points, but RaiQuan Gray was the player of the game. He was absolutely everywhere all game, poking balls loose, attacking the rim, driving on smaller defenders without taking charges… he was as good as I’ve ever seen him. Gray finished with a career high 19 points, 5 assists 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and a block. As great as that statline is, I feel like it doesn’t do a great enough of telling the story of just how great he was this game.

RayQuan Evans wasn’t that efficient this game, but still finished with 10 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals. He doesn’t need to score 20+ like he did last game, just give the team 7-12 points and this is a much better, much deeper team. I expect to see more lineups going forward with him and Scottie Barnes on the floor at the same time, just to let Barnes live in the paint and be more comfortable.

Malik Osborne has his best game of the season with 10 points, 2 rebounds, and a block in just 15 minutes. Again, his energy is just infectious and it really gets everyone going. We saw when he chased the loose ball out of bounds how many people got up to cheer.

Balsa Koprivica was incredibly impressive in this game. 10 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, a steal, and just 3 fouls in 30 minutes, a season high in minutes for him. Only 3 fouls against the constant big man rotation UNC throws out is an impressive feat, especially for him. He was strong and physical, a very encouraging sign going forward, and is molding into the player we all know he can be.

I’ve been saying Sardaar Calhoun needs more minutes, and while his stats might not show it, the analytics do. In just 16 minutes of play, Calhoun posted a +/- of +13. No one else on the team posted a +/- better than +7.

For UNC, it was RJ Davis and Kerwin Walton keeping them in this game, combining for 30 points and 6/13 on 3-pointers. Caleb Love added 3 3s as well for an unusually warm performance from deep for this team. They were getting too many open looks, but FSU wanted to keep the bigs from dominating, which was accomplished.

Combined, Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, and Day’Ron Sharpe combined for 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 1 block. That’s a phenomenal job of playing against that trio and really as great as you could hope for against those 3. Holding Brooks to just a single rebound is unbelievably impressive. It’s his lowest rebounding output in a loss in over 60 games.

Anthony Harris wasn’t supposed to play today after his ACL tear last year, but came in midway through the second half, played 9 minutes and finished with 5 points and 3 assists and a +/- of +10. Florida State didn’t know what to do with him, simply because he wasn’t supposed to play.

Onto the plays.

Play 1

Scenario: 11:17 Remaining in the First Half UNC is Inbounding

This is the second game in a row where the opposing team has had absolutely no idea what to do against our inbounds defense. This slanted 1-3-1 has given UNC and NC State some real issues. You usually only see it on under the basket inbounds, but with how deep in the corner this inbounds was, it made sense to run it. Then MJ Walker does something not usually seen from this formation and chase the ball deep.

The steal and subsequent layup sparked a 16-5 run over the next 5 minutes and gave Florida State some real life in the game.

Play 2

Scenario: 6:48 Remaining in the Second Half, UNC Enters the Halfcourt

UNC was killing Florida State on high-low passes for a majority of the first half. What was the adjustment? Playing safety.

Incredible, incredible recognition from MJ Walker to see this over the top pass coming and just going over the top. UNC wasn’t able to get nearly as many of these opportunities in the second half and it was in part because FSU put someone closer to the middle and closer to the action.

Play 3

Scenario: Every Late Game Defensive Possession

I was so impressed with every defensive possession down the stretch. So here is all of them.

Really impressive block from Koprivica. Even though he got beat off of the dribble, he was able to hustle back into the play and use his length to block the shot from behind.

The ensuing inbounds was another phenomenal effort all-around, but especially RayQuan Evans. Keeps the swing pass for 3 from going through then contests Garrison Brooks from behind WITHOUT FOULING. Phenomenal.

This is the play that won the game. Ignore the turnover directly after this, Gray completely stole an easy basket away. First, great seal off from Balsa Koprivica to keep the easy baseline drive from happening, but the steal from Gray is one of the best defensive plays you will EVER see.

This play is all Anthony Polite before Koprivica finishes the possession off. Just watch Polite on this possession though, it’s times like these that you want them to switch everything because it avoids the easy downhill drives, then Koprivica is just able to step to the side and force a tough, contested shot.

This was the last real possession of the game, and another superb effort from RaiQuan Gray. He’s going to be in the league soon, and people that just see the couple of bad plays he has each game are hating just to hate.

Florida State is right back at it Monday night on the road against Louisville. This is the one time you like having a noon game so you get a little more time for treatment and film before flying up to Kentucky, whereas Louisville plays at 8pm tonight at Miami then get immediately on a plane to go back to Louisville.

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