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UNC win vs. NC State: The three things we learned

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Oh yes, there will be gloating.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

1. There is no margin of victory large enough to cause you to stop watching UNC smack around NC State.

It’s not every Sunday afternoon that you get to learn the answer to a question that might have been forever purely theoretical. It’s like you settled into your frozen-in couch and were given the answer to the question of whether God could make a rock so heavy that even he couldn’t lift it.

There were good reasons to think you might turn off a game this lopsided. You might have grown up some, for example. You may have come to think of yourself as an adult with adult responsibilities who has better things to do than watch a bunch of 18-21 year olds you’ve never met undergo a lengthy public humiliation. Grownups are above such things, theoretically.

Or maybe it’s that there’s a credible question about whether this is a rivalry that even matters anymore. Let’s be honest, UNC has a rivalry with NCSU in the same sense that hammers have a rivalry with nails. All-time Roy Williams record at UNC against the Wolfpack: 26-3. Throw in a few games while he was at Kansas and it goes to 31-3. From a competitiveness standpoint, it would make more sense to try to get Dematha High School on the schedule than to play State twice. Then again, having a good conference record helps with NCAA tournament seeding, so there’s that.

Whatever. You know the deal. No matter how lopsided it gets, and no matter how foregone the conclusion, you love it. You love every minute of it. You love it because you know that every serious NC State fan is more interested in UNC’s failure than in NCSU’s success. You know that their favorite sport is not basketball, not football, and not even bass fishing. No, their favorite sport is rooting for the NCAA to do something, anything, that would give them a shred of hope of reversing the tide of complete domination they’ve suffered more or less your whole life.

The fact that the Tar Heels have continued their domination while Wolfpack fans have concocted NCAA conspiracy theories more insane than the time they thought they were about to hire John Calipari or possibly Billy Donovan (I am not making this up) has only made games like this one more sweet.

That is why when the floor was occupied by the likes of Shea Rush, Kanler Coker, Aaron Rohlman, and Stillman White, you were as locked into the television as you would have been if it were a one-point game, thinking things like “they had BETTER NOT let it get under 50.”

Your only regret is that it didn’t go on longer. It’s official: there is no upper limit to the joy that can be experienced during a State beatdown.

2. Seventh Woods is growing up.

This was Woods’ best game as a Tar Heel.

It wasn’t the stat line – 15 minutes, 6 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 turnovers, and a steal. He’s not going to put this box score in a frame.

What it was, though, was a game in which Woods showed none of the erraticism that has marked his play as a Tar Heel to date. It wasn’t a mix of thrills and disasters. He did not look overwhelmed by the speed of the game, or like he was thinking too much. Maybe it was the fact that he’s faced the Wolfpack’s star player, Dennis Smith, enough times as a high schooler that it was easier for him to stay in his comfort zone. Or maybe – hopefully – this is a sign of Woods’ maturation coming along nicely.

Everything about Woods had the look of a player who has a chance to be a contributor at point guard for a very long time. Ball-handling, shooting, defense, everything. Woods looked to be a player who was learning to use his athleticism to impact the game instead of like an extraordinary athlete who didn’t know quite what to do when athleticism alone wasn’t enough.

3. Theo Pinson looks like Theo Pinson.

Pinson didn’t score (his shooting motion still looks a bit awkward, and it seemed at times he was trying too hard to make a statement basket to announce his return), but in every other respect his reintroduction to the Tar Heel lineup went as well as anyone could have hoped. Although it never became necessary to assign him to Dennis Smith, as many anticipated might happen in a tight game, Pinson did all the things the Tar Heels need from him if they’re to reach their goals for the season.

His line – 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals in only 13 minutes – was an incredibly efficient performance for a first outing since returning from his injury. He was precisely the long, menacing, passing lane-jumping, loose ball-scrapping, open man-finding force of nature that could be the difference between a good Tar Heel basketball season and a great one. If there is going to be any kind of awkwardness in his re-integration into the UNC lineup, it wasn’t apparent against State.

Kenny Williams, whose starting role is most likely to change to a reserve one when Pinson is ready for more minutes, didn’t seem bothered by Pinson’s return. Williams was 4-7 in 20 minutes, with a pair of steals and an assist. Roy Williams now has a measure of flexibility in throwing different lineups at opponents that didn’t exist earlier in the season, and there’s reason to hope that Williams’ having been thrust into a starter’s role ahead of schedule will pay dividends in the heart of the season.

One more thing: North Carolina beat State by 51 points. In 2017. I’m not tired of seeing it, either.