The Tar Heels entered this afternoon’s contest locked in an ACC tie with their upstart rival, and they survived a poor second half stretch to throttle the Wolfpack during the closing minutes and soar to a 76-65 win.
State easily established superiority inside. The Pack out-rebounded Carolina 43-34, and forward Richard Howell accumulated 17 himself. UNC’s recent improvement owes to Roy Williams’ shift toward a small lineup, and State made the Tar Heels pay both on the backboards and occasionally while exploiting physical mismatches offensively.
But the “occasionally” proved fatal. UNC’s ball pressure forced 17 Wolfpack turnovers, and C.J. Leslie — despite multiple opportunities to score against a far smaller P.J. Hairston — amassed only six points while also committing six turnovers. What should have been an overall trade-off resulted in a decisive advantage for the Heels, which scored 24 points off turnovers compared with just eight for State.
Junior Reggie Bullock provided leadership and toughness for Carolina. He scored 22 points and added 13 rebounds, an abnormally high number for a wing player and one that at least partially offset State’s advantage on the glass. Freshman Marcus Paige, after a disastrous showing in Raleigh, pieced together 14 points and eight assists with no turnovers while knocking in several critical second half shots.
For the Pack, Scott Wood led the team with 19 points and 5-for-12 on threes, at times providing the club its only reliable halfcourt offense. Lorenzo Brown didn’t dominate Paige but did notch 12 points, 12 assist and five rebounds, so critics shouldn’t direct much blame his way.
No, this game proved that home court matters, and that stars must play to their billing. While UNC’s primary contributors mostly played to level, Leslie’s false steps cost State too many possessions and voided the innate advantages the Wolfpack enjoy over this season’s Tar Heels.
Let’s hope the two squads tangle again in the ACC Tournament. Click here to view the UNC/NCSU box score.