GAMEDAY Mens Basketball

North Carolina 78, Florida State 70

AP Basketball Writer

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - It took Walker Kessler one afternoon to go from promising reserve to having North Carolina fans - the first allowed to attend games all year - chanting his name.

He earned it, too, after sparking a turnaround that helped the Tar Heels upset the Atlantic Coast Conference's top team, boost their NCAA Tournament resume and give their Hall of Fame coach a milestone victory.

The 7-foot-1 freshman scored a season-high 20 points to help North Carolina beat No. 11 Florida State 78-70 on Saturday, a game that saw the Tar Heels rally from 16 down on the way to giving Roy Williams his 900th career win.

Kessler had scored 10 points in each of his last three games, then surpassed that by going 9 for 10 from the field with 14 points after halftime. He also had season highs of eight rebounds and four blocks for the Tar Heels (15-8, 9-5).

"A lot of my points were just: I was in the right place at the right time," Kessler said. "Had guards and everyone, bigs, just throwing the ball when I was two feet away from the basket, so props to them too."

Trailing 41-29 at halftime, the Tar Heels shot 50% after the break. But more importantly, they rode Kessler's production to better production in the paint while cutting down on the turnovers that undercut any offensive flow in the opening half.

"I do think we showed some immaturity in the first half and showed some maturity in the second half," Williams said.

By the end, the Tar Heels were knocking down clinching free throws and denying comeback bids from the ACC-leading Seminoles (14-4, 10-3) just days after a clunker of a performance in a home loss to Marquette.

Kerwin Walton added 13 points for North Carolina, which made all 10 of its free throws in the final 2:15 to stay in control.

RaiQuan Gray scored 17 points for Florida State, which went from being in firm control to watching it slip away amid a mistake-filled second half. As North Carolina built confidence, Florida State shot just 32% after the break and committed more turnovers (12) than field goals (11).

"They did to us what normally what we've been doing to other people," Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said. "They had an excellent gameplan defensively, they were extremely aggressive. They were so aggressive that I thought it creates indecision on some of our parts.

"And sometimes you just got to give teams credit - it's not as much about what you didn't do, it's what they did."

February 27, 2021