CHAPEL HILL, N.C. –– FSU’s Jamir Watkins is the fourth straight player to have a field day with the Tar Heels – scoring 17 points on 7-of-14 FG shooting and 3-of-6 from the 3-point line. But his one-man show wasn’t enough to lift the Seminoles to a win Saturday afternoon.
The Tar Heels won 78-70, going on a 22-0 run to overcome a 14-point deficit in the second half in their ACC-opening contest with the Seminoles. It was the most impressive stretch by any ACC team so far this season and when they needed a spark, they found it in sophomore guard Seth Trimble.
“I think for the first time all year, we lacked intensity,” Trimble said. “It was very surprising to see, you know we’re a team full of energy. To not have that, we’re not going to win games this year if we don’t bring the intensity, effort and just the enthusiasm every single day. So I just made sure to try to bring that in the second half.”
They needed a change of pace entering the second half down by six points and Trimble’s nine bench points reignited the team, bolstering the Tar Heels full-court press.
“Honestly, I feel like Seth coming in and bringing energy really changed the game for us,” Armando Bacot said.
After not seeing many minutes last year, Trimble has slowly solidified himself as UNC’s go-to bench option along with sophomore center Jalen Washington. As a freshman, he scored in double figures just once. Now, eight games into this season, he’s logged over 10 minutes in each game, posting a career-high 12 points against Arkanasas and 11 points against UC Riverside.
“Just confidence and making that freshman to sophomore jump,” Bacot said. “He’s been great for us all year in practice and obviously on the floor, too. With the things he can do, you can play him at the one, two and the three.”
The development of Trimble adds to an already potent Tar Heel offense that includes the likes of RJ Davis who has scored 27 or more points in his past three games. This team also has weapons in Harrison Ingram who in Coach Davis’ words, “is just happy to be a Tar Heel,” Cormac Ryan whose six years of collegiate basketball have given him a high basketball IQ and Armando Bacot who is the veteran of this team and UNC’s all-time leading rebounder.
There will be plenty more chances for North Carolina to prove their toughness when they face No.5-ranked UConn tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden for the Jimmy V Classic. The Tar Heels will play the Huskies at 9:00 p.m., the second year in a row that UNC has played a game at the Mecca.
UNC’s strength these past two games, catapulted them eight spots to No.9 in the AP Top 25 rankings and they’re the only ACC school to crack the Top 10 with the closest team being No. 15 Miami. And while the Tar Heels will take a break from conference play, they have have a slew of non-conference matchups at neutral sites before returning to Chapel Hill. They’ll head to Atlanta Dec. 16 for the CBS Sports Classic competition against Kentucky and Charlotte on Dec. 20 to face Oklahoma at the Spectrum Center.
North Carolina has been performing well in the midst of a very difficult stretch. They’re good in transition, they share the ball and they’ve gone from good to great, but the challenge still lies in their inability to limit one-off performances from their opponents star players.
It’s a plague they’ve been unable to shake since their return from overseas and tonight it’s going to pose an even bigger test when UNC’s guards go against 6-foot-5 Husky guard Tristen Newton. The senior guard is in his second year with the team, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists. In the Huskies lone loss to then-No.5 Kansas, Newton shot six threes (6-of-9) finishing with a career-high 31 points. He also put up a career-high 13 assists during the team’s win over the Manhattan Jaspers back on Nov. 24.
Containing him will be North Carolina’s toughest challenge, especially taking into account his size at the guard position versus that of RJ Davis, Elliot Cadeau and Trimble.
“He’s the head of the snake for them,” Davis said earlier today. “He’s a do-it-all type of player. He can rebound the ball extremely well as a point guard and he runs the team well for them. I think we gotta key in on him but also give him credit for who he is and who the team is.”