North Carolina’s slow starts once again proved to be their undoing, snapping their five-game win streak over NC State. The same offensive struggles that have plagued the Tar Heels remained a problem throughout the game,, but ultimately it was a porous defense that dropped them to 0-1 in conference play.
The Heels entered the first media timeout only trailing 11-8. During the commercial break it seemed that UNC may have found a temporary respite from their early scoring troubles. Those hopes quickly vanished after the Heels tied the game at 15-15. Shakeel Moore went on a personal 8-0 run, and scored 13 of State’s next 15 points. By the time his outburst concluded, UNC trailed 30-17. That lead eventually ballooned to 17 points, and State led 46-29 with 3:56 remaining in the half.
Once again, turnovers and minimal outside shooting hampered the offense for long stretches. The Heels coughed it up eight times, five of which were credited as steals for State. Those free possessions turned into 10 additional points for the home team. And, despite long stretches with Kerwin Walton and Puff Johnson on the wings, the Heels mustered just 2-6 shooting from deep.
However, most notably, the Tar Heels went with a rarely used “defense is optional” mindset. That’s always a risky plan. By the end of the half the Wolfpack were 6-9 (67%) from three and 19-36 (53%) from the floor. Using State’s dribble-drive style offense, the backcourt of Devon Daniels and Braxton Beverly sliced and dice North Carolina’s already shaky perimeter with an array of drives, dishes, and kick-outs.
After all of that, UNC righted the ship and closed the first half on a 13-3 run. Fueled by an aggressive run-n-jump trapping defense, State complied by making just one of their final eight shots of the half. A three-pointer by Andrew Platek and an emphasis on feeding the post solved some offensive struggles. UNC entered the tunnel trailing 49-42.
The second half continued the season’s theme of slowly chipping way at the lead, cutting the lead to 59-57 by the under-12 timeout. State continued their cold(ish) shooting, going 4-13 during that time. UNC struggled to take advantage, adding six more turnovers in that same stretch.
The momentum seemed to be turning. An Andrew Platek and-1 cut the lead to 63-62, and an inevitable State collapse seemed imminent. Instead, State regained their composure. With 5:13 remaining, they pushed the lead to 77-64 on the back of their own 14-2 run. UNC had to muster one more comeback after looking lost, leaderless, and defeated for much of the second half.
Obviously, they decided to make one last effort. Using their own 9-0 run thanks to the return of a stout defense, the Heels cut the deficit to 77-73 with 2:45 left. That was the closest the Heels would get.
After scoring 52 points in the paint, Love and Bacot missed layups, Love missed a jumper, Davis missed a jumper, and then Love missed a three. That gave State enough opportunities to push the lead to 78-73 with 1:03 remaining. A few missed free throws by State made it interesting in the final seconds, but they held on for the victory.
Devon Daniels led the Wolfpack with 21 points. Manny Bates added 14 and 7. The Wolfpack finished 8-17 (47%) from three and 30-64 (47%) from the floor
Armando Bacot led the Heels with 16 points. R.J Davis and Caleb Love added 11 apiece. Garrison Brooks chipped in 10 points and grabbed a team-high 7 rebounds.
UNC finished with 52 points in the paint, but went 2-12 from three, and only managed 12-17 from the foul line.
The Heels will be back on December 30th against Georgia Tech.