That sound you hear is the anguished cries of Wolfpack fans. Not that you needed me to point that out. It's a pretty recognizable sound by this point.
For all my concerns about Lorenzo Brown, who Kendall Marshall defended quite well, I was never worried about how UNC would handle the Wolfpack in the paint. And with good reason. State had no one who could restrain Tyler Zeller, as the Carolina big man would finish with 21 points and 17 rebounds, the most boards in the Smith Center by anyone not named Hansbrough or May. Richard Howell would foul out with 8:40 remaining trying to defend Zeller, and his replacement DeShawn Painter was completely ineffectual.
As was C.J. Leslie, State's leading scorer coming into the game. Held to nine points on 3-12 shooting, it's safe to say he's still hasn't gotten the best of any of his meetings with John Henson, whom would finish with five blocks, two on Leslie. Mark Gottfried had his team, like many who have faced Carolina lately, focused on preventing the Heels' fast break. Which meant abandoning offensive rebounding to have three players back behind half court after every missed shot. UNC controlled the boards easily, finishing with 33 defensive rebounds and 48 overall. Unless the Wolfpack could shoot the lights out of the place, they weren't going to win.
In fact, they're lucky the game was as close as it was. UNC would lead by as much as twenty-eight before going scoreless for the find five minutes, and State had a rash of banked-in threes to bring the margin within spitting distance of respectability. Carolina's entire defense stepped up in the absence of Dexter Strickland – Roy Williams would say that his absence in practice first highlighted for the team exactly how much he does on the court – holding State to season-low shooting. Reggie Bullock shined in his first start, and even Stilman White, playing five minutes in relief of Marshall, acquitted himself nicely and drained a three.
I'm not yet sold on the new Strickland-less Carolina team. This was just one game, with a week's preparation, against an opponent the Heels have no trouble getting amped up for. But for this game at least, Carolina played like a championship team. More games like this, especially on the road, and we can look forward to a very nice March.
State on the other hand, can always look forward to next year. They last won in Chapel Hill in 2003; they've had a lot of practice at looking forward.