North Carolina traveled to Raleigh to face rival N.C. State tonight, and the Tar Heels defeated the Wolfpack 77-63 in a game that State fans had every right to believe they could win despite UNC's recent dominance of the series.
The Tar Heels weathered their customary offensive woes thanks to outstanding defense, perhaps the best they’ve played in several weeks. Carolina limited the Wolfpack to 39 percent shooting, including an atrocious 29 percent in the second half.
Pre-game drama surrounded the availability of stud big man Ed Davis, who missed the Wake Forest debacle due to an injured ankle. But while Davis clearly was hobbled against the Wolfpack, he gamely suited up and contributed 12 points and nine rebounds.
Meanwhile, maligned point guard Larry Drew enjoyed what may have been his finest 40-minute performance since the Michigan State game in early December, scoring 18 points on 5-for-9 shooting and adding seven assists against only one turnover. If he consistently can play anywhere near that level, the Tar Heels’ place in the NCAA Tournament should be secure by the end of the season.
The Heels’ other primary guard, Dexter Strickland, continues to impress. He added 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting and hit a couple of timely jump shots. The guards’ confidence and success handling the ball enabled the club to commit what, given the season’s results to date, might be considered a miraculously low 11 turnovers for the game.
Elsewhere on the roster, senior Deon Thompson reemerged from his shell. He gave a spirited effort on both ends of the court and finished with 20 points.
But while a certain amount of relief, even jubilance, is warranted, beating the Wolfpack doesn’t denote that Carolina is back, no matter what you may read tomorrow. The Heels still must prove they can cope against a quick, aggressive opponent, something N.C. State is not.
Still, given the dire mood that enveloped the fanbase the past week, a 2-3 ACC record sure sounds a hell of a lot better than 1-4.
The Heels get another brief respite and will host surprising Virginia on Sunday evening, another team that isn’t overly athletic. If Carolina is going to make a serious move toward earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament, this is another game the Heels almost have to win.
To see the UNC/NCSU box score, click here.