Florida State (14-1, 2-0 ACC) defeated North Carolina (9-7, 0-2 ACC) by a 64-63 score today in Chapel Hill, NC.
Nicki Ekhomu got FSU off to a nice start with a triple to open the scoring. However, Stephanie Watts answered with eight straight points for the Heels to put them up 8-3. Nausia Woolfolk responded with five straight points of her own to tie the game at eight. From there the two teams traded baskets until Amaya Brown made a layup with about 2:35 left in the quarter. Brown’s score sparked the Noles to a 9-2 run to end the quarter. FSU went into the second quarter with a 20-14 lead.
The two teams started the second stanza by trading baskets. Janelle Bailey canned a jumper with about a minute and a half in the quarter to pull UNC within five at 34-29. The Seminoles responded with a 6-2 run to end the quarter with a 40-31 lead.
Florida State had a nine point lead to start the third quarter after playing well to end the first half. The Seminoles were poised to break the game wide open but Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell went to a 2-3 zone and the game changed on a dime.
The zone completely discombobulated FSU’s offense. The Noles missed their first seven shots of the period and the Tar Heels took full advantage to get back into the game. FSU also committed three turnovers in the nightmare stretch that lasted for the first five minutes and 49 seconds of the third quarter. In that time UNC hit the Seminoles with an 8-0 run that was finally broken by a Woolfolk jumper to keep the Seminoles up 42-39. However, FSU’s lead would be short lived as the Heels went on an 6-2 mini-run to take a 45-44 lead. Kiah Gillespie answered with a triple but Paris Kea ended the quarter with a pair of free throws to tie the game at 47 going into the fourth quarter.
Carolina started the quarter on their right foot scoring the first five points to build a 52-47 lead. FSU answered with a 5-2 mini-run to close to within two at 54-52. After the teams traded baskets the Noles made their move. Valencia Myers started it with an offensive board and a put back on which she was fouled. She made the free throw for the old fashioned three point play. After a UNC turnover Ekhomu was fouled going to the basket. She made a pair to give the Seminoles a 59-58 lead. FSU got a stop and then on the ensuing possession Ekhomu made two more free throws to put the Noles up 61-58. Paris Kea drove to the basket on the ensuing possession but was called for her fifth foul on a charge. Ekhomu drove to the basket on the next possession and was fouled by Watts for her fifth foul. Ekhomu made one of two and FSU was up 62-58. After a nice driving layup by Shayla Bennett to cut the lead to two, UNC had to foul to stop the clock with only 15 seconds left. Ekhomu made one of two to give the Noles a 63-60 lead. Bennett’s triple to tie rimmed out and Woolfolk got the board. She was fouled and she made one of two at the line. Bennett drained a tough three to cut the lead to 64-63 with 1.6 seconds left. FSU head coach Sue Semrau called a timeout to advance the ball. The Noles were able to inbound the ball and run the clock out to preserve the 64-63 victory.
Kiah Gillespie was again huge for Florida State. She had 14 points and nine boards in 39 minutes. Nicki Ekhomu also played 39 minutes and had 16 points, seven assists and four steals. However, it was Nausia Woolfolk who lead the Seminoles in scoring with 20 points. She added six boards and three assists to her total.
It is true that FSU has won their first two games by a total of three points but Florida State is winning games and that is the most important thing. These young players are getting crucial ACC experience in hostile environments and they are winning in the process.
However, there are definitely areas in which the team can improve. In the past few years when the Noles were an elite ACC team their calling card was rebounding. FSU was an elite rebounding team. Now they are good but not elite. They managed to win the game but they were outrebounded by the Heels 38-36.
The Noles have also gone from being a good defensive team to being about average. Offensively, because of injuries, Ekhomu is playing out of position at the point guard. She is actually doing a pretty good job overall but today against the UNC zone (which they for some reason largely abandoned after getting the lead) her inexperience at the position showed as FSU had trouble getting good looks. Also playing the point takes her away from her natural position off the ball on the wing. It also limits her opportunities to attack the basket because she is more concerned with running the offense and getting others involved rather than creating for herself.
FSU is also struggling to get production from their front court other than Gillespie. The Seminoles are at 14-1 so they have been able to largely overcome these issues however these are the reasons why the Noles may struggle to return to the Sweet 16 despite the sterling record.
To be sure, the team is winning games and they are showing a lot of mental toughness to overcome these deficiencies. However, when the schedule toughens up FSU will be challenged to continue their winning ways unless some of these negatives areas are improved. Remember, the Noles have won two ACC road games but they were by a total of three points against two teams that will not be in the NCAA tournament.
Florida State will have a week off before returning to the court on January 13th in Tallahassee when the Clemson Tigers come to town. Clemson (10-5, 1-1 ACC) defeated Virginia today 71-65.