Where has this team been all season?
At the start, this game looked like it was going to go the way of most of the season. The Heels had three turnovers in the first two minutes, while MSU drained three of the first five threes and had a 16-4 lead after the first five minutes. And then, Carolina began to play like they'd been trying to all season. The tempo sped up, exhausting the Bulldogs and turning their outside shooting ice cold. UNC began driving on almost every possession, and the interior passes kept finding the open man. With Jarvis Varnado exiled to the bench for long stretches, John Henson had a field day, nabbing 10 points, six rebounds, and two blocks in the first half. (He'd finish with 12, 8, and 3.) UNC had a 22-5 scoring run, and went into the locker at halftime up 36-33.
That wouldn't last, of course. State did a much better job controlling the tempo in the second half, keeping their legs fresh so the threes kept falling (MSU would have four players in double figures) and doing a better job on the boards. Despite all that, and the Heels being behind seven at the 10-minute mark with Tyler Zeller lost to a concussion, UNC didn't fold. They pulled back with back-to-back threes from Graves and Drew, and then took the lead with 31 seconds remaining on a high-arcing Graves three late in the shot clock. Mississippi State's chose Varnado to make the nswer, only have his shot expertly blocked by Henson and into the hands of Dexter Strickland. When Strickland's free throw missed the mark and the resulting scrum sent Barry Stewart to the line for MSU, Larry Drew broke the now tied game with a baseline-to-baseline drive. Heading straight towards Varnado, he kept the big guy at bay, drained the layup, and won the game with a ruthless efficiency. Varnado's college career is over, and the Heels advance to play either UAB or N.C. State.
And boy, I hope it's N.C. State. That would send the Heels back to Carmichael, and the chance to see one more Wolfpack game there would outweigh any danger of meeting a team that knows UNC that well in an elimination game. State and UAB play tonight, and the Wolfpack better get things done.