Carolina fans may have had a bit of deja vu when Saturday’s game against NC State began. Just like they did when the two teams met in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels raced out to a big lead early and then maintained a lead even as things tightened up down the stretch. UNC held on for the 84-74 win over the Wolfpack.
The three-pointers didn’t fall the same way they did in the Dean Dome on January 29th, but UNC was still able to throw the first big punch on the road in a hostile environment. They raced out to a 20-3 lead six minutes into the game and it looked very much like what we saw a few weeks prior. Leaky Black went down with a knee injury in the first half to throw a wrench into the momentum.
Non-contact knee injuries always cause everyone to fear the worst, but UNC announced that it was a hyperextended knee for Black and that he could have potentially returned in the second half before he was ultimately ruled out for the rest of the game. Hopefully that was a precautionary measure because the team really didn’t need him today and it’s much more important that he be healthy the rest of the way.
Puff Johnson stepped in for Black in a big way and the Tar Heels went to the locker room with a 46-29 halftime advantage. They shot 60% from the field in the first half to NC State’s 26%. Armando Bacot had a double-double before halftime with 11 points and 10 rebounds, but he was far from finished.
Bacot finished with 28 points and 18 rebounds to lead the team. He made all but two of his 13 shots and six of his seven free throw attempts. Brady Manek, Caleb Love, and Johnson each had 16 points as the other Heels in double figures. It was a very impressive performance from Johnson off the bench in replacement of Black. He hit two threes and went 4-9 from the field overall. He also made six of seven free throws.
The turnover margin was...lopsided in NC State’s favor. Carolina turned it over 16 times leading to 22 points for the Wolfpack. NC State gave it away just seven times. That certainly made the final score closer than it might have been otherwise, and helped State out-score UNC in the second half. Fortunately, the rebound margin was also very lopsided but in Carolina’s favor. They dominated the boards, 46-25, as well as the paint, 44-28, to pad their numbers. All of that helped when the Wolfpack finished the game on a 9-0 run.
This team could have really slacked up when they lost their best defender in the first half and NC State might have found a way to sneak into a win, but that didn’t happen. UNC still shot 52% from the field in the second half thanks to Bacot and Johnson’s accuracy.
Carolina had no choice but to win today’s game if they wanted to make the NCAA Tournament and they did what they needed to do. It’s always a good time to beat the guys from Raleigh and it’s good to see that the urgency was there to take care of business on the road.
UNC will be back in action on Monday when they welcome Syracuse to Chapel Hill.