CHAPEL HILL — It had been eight years since N.C. State entered the Smith Center with as strong an ACC record as it brought Thursday night.
After five long, losing seasons in league play, the Wolfpack's resurgence inspired thoughts that maybe it had closed some of the margin between itself and North Carolina.
But the No. 7 Tar Heels proved otherwise during a dominant 74-55 victory that reaffirmed the gap between these programs remains wide. The Tar Heels' victory was their 11th consecutive in this series, and that stretch of supremacy is North Carolina's longest against N.C. State (15-6, 4-2) since the formation of the ACC in 1953.
The Tar Heels (17-3, 4-1) in victory played one of their finest defensive games of the season, limiting the penetration and effectiveness of N.C. State point guard Lorenzo Brown, and holding the Wolfpack to 36.8 percent shooting.
N.C. State struggled offensively like it hadn't all season, and finished with a season-low in points.
"We were really good for certain parts of that game," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "There's no question about that. I thought we were active defensively and got some blocks and got a running thing going. ... But at the same time we realized, particularly in the first half, that State missed a lot of shots that they would normally make."
And made one it would normally miss. North Carolina led 17-14 near the midway point of the first half, but then outscored N.C. State 20-9 the rest of the way to take a 37-23 lead into halftime. That the Wolfpack was even that close was only because Brown made an 80-foot shot as time expired in the first half.
N.C. State made seven other shots from the field during the first half, shot 25 percent before halftime and a season-low 36.8 percent for the game. Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried downplayed the significance of the loss, and said this was just one game among many.
"Tonight's disappointing, we all agree, but we're a better basketball team than we were tonight," he said.
Overall, North Carolina's 11-game winning streak is its longest against N.C. State since the Tar Heels won 11 consecutive between 1934 and 1938. Williams improved to 17-1 against N.C. State as North Carolina's coach.
After the Tar Heels pushed their lead to 11 points with 4 minutes, 3 seconds to play in the first half, N.C. State never again cut the deficit to single digits. North Carolina led by as many as 31 in the second half.
"Well, it's not Carolina-Duke," said Tar Heels sophomore Harrison Barnes, who finished with 15 points. "But we definitely wanted to go out there and show them that this is our court and this is what we do."
Tyler Zeller, who at 7-foot stood four inches taller than any of the Wolfpack's starters, led the Tar Heels with 21 points and a career-high 17 rebounds. Zeller and John Henson, who finished with nine points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots, exploited their height advantage in the paint, where North Carolina outscored the Wolfpack 42-20.
Conversely, the Wolfpack struggled to generate anything offensively on the inside - or anywhere else.
Forwards C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell combined to score 17 points, and they missed 11 of their 18 shots. Howell fouled out with 8:38 to play and played just 16 minutes.
"I've said all year long I thought we had a chance to be really good defensively," Williams said.
Few might have predicted such a dominant defensive performance, especially after North Carolina lost Dexter Strickland, its best perimeter defender, to a knee injury last week in a victory at Virginia Tech. Tar Heels point guard Kendall Marshall, though, wasn't surprised by how easy it looked on Thursday.
"I know what our team is capable of," said Marshall, who had 11 assists.
With about one minute to play, Williams emptied his bench and put in his walk-ons, and the North Carolina student section broke out in a chant of "not our rival."
Williams motioned for the students to stop, and they did, but then the teams walked off the court amid a familiar result in a series that has become especially one-sided.