Chapel Hill, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Brice Johnson posted 18 points and 14 rebounds as 15th-ranked North Carolina kept up its strong recent play with a 78-74 victory over Florida State.
Marcus Paige added 19 points and Justin Jackson put up 14 in the Tar Heels' ninth triumph in their last 10 outings. North Carolina (16-4, 6-1 ACC) will take a five-game win streak into a difficult upcoming stretch against Syracuse, Louisville and No. 2 Virginia.
"I think we are getting tougher and tougher every day," said Tar Heels center Kennedy Meeks, who finished with 12 points. "We have a lot of guys out, so we are just trying to bring it together, really grind it out in practice and focus on what Coach (Roy Williams) is saying."
Florida State (10-10, 2-5) hung tough for most of the afternoon, with Xavier Rathan-Mayes' career-high 35 points keeping the Seminoles in it, before ultimately being dealt its fourth loss in its last five in ACC play.
Though the Tar Heels were in front most of the way, their lead was just 67-63 with under five minutes remaining after Rathan-Mayes knocked down jumpers on consecutive possessions. The teams then traded free throws before North Carolina began to draw clear down the stretch.
Jackson tipped in a Paige miss and J.P. Tokoto followed with a successful midrange shot after Rathan-Mayes missed a 3-point try, with the basket extending the lead to 71-63 with 2:57 to go. Florida State came up empty on its next four trips down the court as well, and the margin was 10 when Meeks scored inside for UNC with 46 seconds left.
"Defensively, we did everything we could to try to keep the ball out of the post," Seminoles head coach Leonard Hamilton said. "There were a couple of occasions where they threw it over the top and got some easy buckets. I thought those two things are where we fell short."
Rathan-Mayes buried a trio of 3-pointers thereafter, however, with the final one trimming FSU's deficit to 75-72 before Paige helped seal the outcome by making a pair of foul shots with 16 seconds to play.
"He was a difficult guy for us to guard," Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams said of Rathan-Mayes. "Sometimes he'd come off the screen and a big guy would be there, and the next time he would refuse a screen and beat a defender back to the basket."
The Tar Heels opened up a 21-12 advantage nearing the midway mark of the first half after Paige scored the final five points of a 9-1 run, and the differential was 11 points when Tokoto's bucket with five minutes left in the period put North Carolina up by a 30-19 count.
Florida State then began to heat up offensively, hitting three straight shots to finish off a 12-3 spurt. The last of those makes, a 3-pointer from Devon Bookert, pulled the Seminoles within 33-31 prior to Jackson's jumper in the final minute that sent North Carolina into the break ahead by four.
A 6-0 stretch staked the Tar Heels to a 54-45 lead with under 10 1/2 minutes remaining, and owned a 63-54 edge until another Booker trey ignited a 7-2 FSU flurry.
Rathan-Mayes' previous career high was 26 points, set against the Citadel on Nov. 25 ... Johnson finished 7-of-9 from the field ... Tar Heels guard Nate Britt, questionable coming into the game after he sustained a lacerated lip that required 15 stitches in Wednesday's win at Wake Forest, did play and scored four points in 14 minutes ... North Carolina improved to 10-0 when Jackson scores in double figures ... The Tar Heels improved to 19-4 all-time against Florida State in Chapel Hill and have won five straight overall in the series.