CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- It’s been so long since North Carolina has been on the road, point guard Kendall Marshall joked earlier this week that he might have to call his mom to get a reminder of how to pack.
All kidding aside, though, the third-ranked Tar Heels -- who haven’t played a road game since their Dec. 3 loss at Kentucky -- are eager to prove they can pack as much of a punch on hostile courts as they can at the friendly Smith Center, where they have now won 28 straight (including nine in a row during their most recent homestand).
“Going on the road is never as much fun as being at home, being around your own fans,’’ senior forward Tyler Zeller said. “But I think it’s something where, on the road, you really see how tough your team is. And in the NCAA tournament, you never play at home, so it’s very important.”
The Tar Heels are 3-2 away from home this season, having split their two road games (a win at UNC Asheville, a loss at Kentucky), while going 2-1 on neutral courts (a victory against Michigan State on an aircraft carrier; then a win against South Carolina and loss to UNLV at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas).
UNC got outrebounded in both of those losses, and at times showed a lack of composure in front of loud crowds.
Against UNLV in its home city, the Tar Heels panicked when they got down in the second half, rushing jump shots as the red-clad audience jeered. And at Kentucky, they failed to foul Wildcats forward Anthony Davis after he blocked John Henson’s potential game-winning shot. Five ticks remained on the clock, but the Tar Heels, in all of the hubbub, weren’t aware of the time.
Still, when asked if he was concerned about his team hitting the road for the first time in more than a month, coach Roy Williams said “not really.”
“You still have to play,’’ he said. “And the last time we were on the road was at Vegas, and I’ll remind them about how we played there, and at Kentucky, and I’ll remind them of how we played there. What you have to do is, you have to block out the noise, and you have to focus on what’s going on on your bench, and what’s going on on the court.”
Although the Tar Heels, who travel to Tallahassee, Fla., to play Florida State on Saturday, have beaten the Seminoles five straight times at Leon County Civic Center, they’ve faced some of their toughest tests there recently.
In 2004, they blew a 24-point lead and lost in overtime. Two years later, they used six 3-pointers from Wes Miller to survive 81-80. They needed overtime to win in 2008, a buzzer-beater by Ty Lawson to escape in 2009 and a 3-pointer from Harrison Barnes with 3.1 seconds left to prevail there, 72-70, last season.
So strap on your seat belts; UNC's first ACC road trip of the season could be a crazy one.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge,” Tar Heels shooting guard Dexter Strickland said, “but we’re ready for it. This team hasn’t been on the road for a while, so it is pumped up to play.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
ON THE ROAD IN THE ACC
It has taken plenty of comebacks and last-second shots, but North Carolina is 5-1 at Florida State, where it plays again Saturday, in the Roy Williams era. Here’s how UNC has fared on the road in league play since Williams became head coach at his alma mater in 2003:
At Miami – 4-0
At N.C. State – 7-1
At Florida State – 5-1
At Boston College – 3-1
At Virginia – 4-2
At Clemson – 4-2
At Wake Forest – 4-2
At Virginia Tech – 3-2
At Duke – 5-3
At Maryland – 2-4
At Georgia Tech – 1-4