No matter how bad it gets, N.C. State has it worse.
And it got pretty bad today, despite the fact that Carolina led most of the game. The team came out and played lacklusterly, almost as if the weight of the weekend's centennial celebration had crushed their spirits in light of this season's performance. Happily, there opponents were the Wolfpack, themselves shattered by five straight conference losses. State had two main offensive weapons – Tracy Smith creating his own shot inside and long three-point attempts from their backcourt. The latter weren't falling, and the UNC defense soon buckled down on Smith. Will Graves did a god job as the primary defender, and collapsing double and triple teams, especially from Henson, did the rest. Smith managed 20 points but only six rebounds, and many of the Heels' nine steals came on bad entry passes to the Wolfpack big man.
Those nine steals did a lot to spur on the Carolina offense as well, which struggled often against a State team that routinely abandoned the offensive boards to keep Carolina from beating them back down the court. UNC still had trouble working a halfcourt offense, and the number of shots they missed from two feet is pretty embarrassing, but Larry Drew led a balanced scoring effort with fifteen. UNC wasn't about to let a repeat of the Duke game occur, as they finished with 41 rebounds overall and 16 on the offensive end; this more than anything else his what kept State from mounting a late comeback.
The new, necessity-driven eight-man rotation was something UNC fans haven't seen in quite a few years, but for the most part it worked. Nobody shot particularly well, but everybody carried their weight and had the playing time to find their groove, including Leslie McDonald, who played 13 minutes . Free throw shooting remain abysmal, and a couple of Henson's needed a breeze to even hit the rim, but that's to be expected at this point. The players can walk away knowing they've at east achieved a sweep of the folks in Raleigh, but there's no sign that the same flaws that have made this conference season so unbearable have improved, or that the remaining eight games won't be more of the same.