I think we can officially say that the North Carolina Tar Heels have finally figured out how to flip the script on what so far has been a fairly brutal season to watch, as they take down the NC State Wolfpack to earn their fifth conference in of the season. The first half was maybe as close to flawless as we’ve seen so far, with the offense clicking on all cylinders and the defense looking drastically different than the first time these two teams met. In the first game, NC State obliterated UNC’s defense with a lot of ball screens, which led to a lot of drives to the basket and/or kick-outs that resulted in three points. This time the Heels had a much better plan, and the Wolfpack had to figure out how to score in other ways.
In a refreshing change of pace, the team that had no answers on defense was NC State. The Tar Heels got just about anything they wanted in the paint, which was largely thanks to Day’Ron Sharpe and Armando Bacot. Both of these players showed that they were the bigger, stronger, and more talented bigs every time they got the ball, and the two combined for 24 of the team’s 43 points in the first half. Caleb Love also continued his strong play, getting to the rim with solid efficiency, being highly active on defense, and only having one turnover to end the half. In fact, the entire team finished the first half with just five turnovers, which was likely the biggest factor in the Heels going into halftime with a ten-point lead.
In the second half, however, immediate turnover issues let NC State gain a little bit of steam in the opening minutes. Thankfully unlike previous times this season the Heels kept their collective foot on the gas, and never let the gap close too much for the rest of the game. After both RJ Davis and Kerwin Walton had zero points in the first half, they both stepped up to combine for 18 points and nailed three of their four three-point attempts. Anthony Harris and Caleb Love joined in on the party, as they contributed 7 points apiece to hold off the pesky Wolfpack.
For those that were waiting for the return of Carolina basketball, I’d say that this is the closest that this team has gotten to it since the 2018-19 season. The Heels were dominant in the paint, nailed their three-pointers in crucial moments, and kept the turnovers from getting completely out of control. If there was one sore spot in this game, it has to be the performance we saw from Garrison Brooks. The Preseason ACC Player of the Year finished the game with four points, four rebounds, and fouled out in the last few minutes of the game. Thankfully this wasn’t a game-breaking development like it would have been in previous games, but hopefully Brooks will be able to make the appropriate corrections before the Heels’ next game.
All and all, this was another good win for UNC to improve to 5-3 in conference play. Next on the schedule for Carolina will be Pitt at the Peterson Events Center.