So if you take the first half at Duke and the second half of this one you get great basketball right?
UNC opened the game playing much the same caliber of offensive basketball we have seen since Durham...well sort of. The guards actually carried the scoring load in the first half while Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Justin Knox were limited by the Wolfpack's physical play. In addition Harrison Barnes was looking like he did versus Minnesota starting the game 0-6 from the floor. UNC only shot 36% in the first half but managed to lead 31-29 on the strength of 14 point from the shooting guards? Dexter Strickland had nine points and Leslie McDonald chipped in five. Both hit three pointers and gave the Heels a charge after falling behind 19-9. The second half proved to be a much better exercise in producing points. The Heels shot 48% in the 2nd half with Harrison Barnes scoring 14 of his team high 16 points. Barnes came out and scored a quick five points to help UNC open up a working margin. Later in the half, with UNC clinging to a 60-56 lead Barnes would score the next seven Tar Heel points on two vicious putback dunks and a dagger to the heart three pointer. Barnes 2nd half line was 6-11 from the floor with two three pointers.
Overall, UNC scratched out a tough win on the road against a team that was miles better than the last time UNC played them. If there were one thing for NCSU fans to really be frustrated about it is Sidney Lowe coached teams have this maddening tendency to figure out how to play good basketball when it is too late. The Wolfpack played a solid game all the way around and did not miss Richard Howell due to the surprise play of Jordan Vandenburg. While NCSU's record makes this look like a less than stellar win for UNC, I am not sure that is the case. This was an intense and physical game to the point the normally lighthearted Henson was talking smack following a couple of blocks or the fact that the Daily Tar Heel sports editor reported on Twitter Henson yelling, "Gimme that ****" as he was in the air blocking Ryan Harrow's shot. Roy probably does not care for that sort of thing but at the same time the edge behind that kind of behavior is something this team needs. A game like this also requires a team to be focused, disciplined and smart. There were times when the Heels were not, especially following Wolfpack baskets which charged the crowd. In one sequence, NCSU got an alley-oop dunk from Jordan Vandenberg. Marshall then foolishly attempted to throw an alley-oop to Henson without properly setting it up and with Henson well defended. The result was a turnover and easy basket on the other end. Early shots and an impatient offense hurt the Heels at times. As the game entered the final stages, Marshall settled the offense down a bit and Roy Williams used a couple of timeouts to set the offensive plays.
Also adding to the degree of difficulty in this game was the Heels finding themselves in the unfamiliar position of having their interior offensive options bogged down by a physical defense. UNC was able to overcome that by getting points from the perimeter players. As noted above Strickland and McDonald combined for 14 in the first half but the real difference lies with how Strickland got his points. There was one three from the sophomore and another foul line jumper. The rest came via aggressive drives to the basket. UNC's offense is better when Strickland is looking to penetrate or trying to make thing happen by getting to the basket. The same is true with Marshall who did a much better job finishing at the rim to the tune of 14 points. Marshall's scoring offset a pedestrian evening distributing(5 assists) and taking care of(5 TOs) the basketball. The flat-out war being waged on the blocks forced UNC into a more balanced offensive attack. The true guards scored 36 of UNC's 75 points and depending on how you view Barnes' position you could argue 52 of 75 points came from the perimeter players. In that sense you got the feeling that the Heels recovered a bit offensively in this one with the added bonus that Barnes found his offensive game in the 2nd half. His 0-6 first half could have easily turned in 0-12. In fact there was a point in the 2nd half where Barnes was 2-10 before going 4-7 to close the game. Being able to turn the ship around in a hostile crowd versus a team that is taking away what you do best can only bode well for the future.
Barring a meeting in the ACC Tournament this will likely close the book on UNC vs NCSU in the Sidney Lowe era. The assumption is Lowe, who once his first meeting against UNC and Roy Williams but since has lost 10 straight will not survive beyond this year. While the present era of UNC dominance over NCSU would seem to indicate the rivalry is dead, the smack talking and primal screams going from UNC players says otherwise. Either that or there could very well be some carry over from the NC Pro-Am games this summer when principal players from each team faced off. Whatever the case, this game might prove that competitiveness in a series is not necessarily required to a rivalry-type game.