Just before he was met by a parade of chest bumps from his teammates Saturday, one after the other in celebration of the significant victory North Carolina had secured and the substantial performance he had produced, Walker Kessler paused to take a couple of glances around the Smith Center and soak in the scene.
A moment to savor, for sure.
“That was my first time experiencing anything like that,” the 7-foot-1 freshman said later, shrugging his shoulders and rubbing his arms. “I get kind of chills and I’m kind of smiling about it.”
Kessler delivered the game of his young career to help the Tar Heels take down ninth-ranked Florida State 78-70. UNC overcame the first-place team in the Atlantic Coast Conference after climbing out of a 16-point deficit, which allowed coach Roy Williams to reach 900 career wins.
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All of it unfolded in front of a home crowd for the first time this season — about 3,200 fans, many of them UNC students, were allowed in the building — and ultimately became another unpredictable turn in this turbulent season for North Carolina.
Kessler came off the bench and supplied season bests across the board with 20 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots, an improbable contribution that fueled the Tar Heels (15-8 overall, 9-5 ACC).
North Carolina followed its worst loss of the season, Wednesday night’s stumble against Marquette, with its best victory of the season here by defeating the Seminoles (14-4, 10-3).
Kerwin Walton added 13 points and RJ Davis and Caleb Love chipped in 12 points apiece. North Carolina coughed up 21 turnovers, 14 of them during the first half while falling behind 39-23, but sank 27 of 30 free throws in the end.
Afterward, Kessler, fresh from a dousing in the locker room, wore a T-shirt commemorating Williams’ milestone win that was soaked in certain places with wet spots.