North Carolina walked into PNC Arena looking to avenge their January loss to the Wolfpack. A victory would be their third in a row, and continue an upward trend heading into a daunting late season schedule. A win would also deny the Wolfpack their first regular season sweep of the Heels since 2002-2003. Adding to the urgency were comments by Joel Berry who stoked both fan bases by claiming that NC State isn’t really UNC’s rival. A highly emotional environment, buoyed by Berry’s comments, welcomed the Heels.
With a 96-89 win over their conference opponent, it was mission accomplished.
“They” say basketball is a game of runs, and the first half tested that mantra. Early in the game, State’s Markell Johnson decided it would be smart to do some trash talking to Joel Berry. After veteran referee Les Jones told both players to calm down, Berry did what Berry does. Led the Tar Heels on an 9-0 run, thanks in part to an and-1 by Sterling Manley, and early 14-7 lead.
After the Wolfpack chipped away at that deficit, the Heels responded with another 10-2 run, aided in part by a special Roy Williams lineup of Seventh Woods, Andrew Platek, Brandon Robinson, Garrison Brooks, and Theo Pinson. A driving lay-up by Platek and three pointer from Robinson helped the Heels push the lead to 28-18.
The Wolfpack eventually responded with a 19-0 run of their own and took a 37-28 as UNC went scoreless for over 7 minutes. In a scene reminiscent from the second half against Duke, from 10:33 to 3:21 the Heels missed everything from three pointers to point blank layups. An amped up Wolfpack took advantage as the Heels seemingly avoided contact, became soft in the paint, and were beaten to 50/50 balls.
Of course, Roy never called a timeout. As he said after the game, “I told them I wasn’t going to call a timeout because they needed to grow up”.
That decision seemingly worked as the Heels regained their composure and entered halftime only down 37-35.
Then Luke Maye happened.
After only scoring 6 points to go along with his 8 rebounds in the first half, Maye put the Heels on his back and scored 13 of the Heels’ first 17 points after the break. Using his vast repertoire he scored on three pointers, lay ups, tip-ins, jump shots, and a thunderous two handed dunk down the lane that silenced the PNC crowd.
Yet, just like the first game in Chapel Hill, the Heels couldn't quite pull away. Every time UNC extended the lead to multiple possessions, NC State answered. Six of their players scored in double figures, led by Torin Dorn’s and Al Freeman’s 17 points apiece. The Heels also committed 19 turnovers to NC State’s 11.
Fortunately, unlike the first meeting, once UNC took an early 41-40 lead in the second half, the Wolpfack never got closer than one point. That was aided in part by limiting UNC-Raleigh to just 13 attempts from behind the arc (though they made 7). It was also helped by timely plays that were missing in January, including a Kenny Williams three with 1:13 that effectively put the game out of reach 88-83. The Heels made enough free throws down the stretch to maintain a comfortable advantage.
All five UNC starters scored in double figures, led by Maye’s 33 points on 15-22 shooting. Maye also had 17 rebounds, which equaled the total amount of rebounds corralled by the Wolfpack’s starting five.
Joel Berry contributed 16 points and 5 rebounds. Theo Pinson finished with 11 points and 7 rebounds.
North Carolina finished with a 41-24 advantage on the boards.
By the time the buzzer sounded, the Heels walked off the court with their third straight victory and second in 48 hours. Since Roy Williams returned to Chapel Hill, UNC has defeated their little brothers from Raleigh 28 times.
Sounds like Berry may be onto something.
Bring on Notre Dame.