DeCock

When Heels are on, it's over

Staff WriterJanuary 27, 2012 

— There was one, and only one, N.C. State offensive play for which North Carolina didn't have an adequate response. The Tar Heels did not adequately defend the opposite free-throw line, and Lorenzo Brown threw up a heave from 80 feet away at the first-half buzzer that rattled through.

That accounted for one-eighth of N.C. State's made field goals in the first half.

You'd never know North Carolina just lost its best perimeter defender. You'd never know the Tar Heels weren't the No. 1 team in the country the way they dismantled the Wolfpack. That's how North Carolina started the season, and that's the way the Tar Heels played Thursday, without Dexter Strickland, in a 74-55 blowout.

"We were really good for certain portions of that game," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "There's no question about that."

It was a worst-case scenario for N.C. State: Richard Howell in early foul trouble, Scott Wood smothered, John Henson swatting or redirecting everything anywhere near the basket and the Tar Heels utterly dominating the glass.

However N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried drew it up, it wasn't supposed to look like this. He starting running out of options about six minutes in, right about the time Howell picked up his second foul.

"The first time I thought our team this year, we've played 21 games now, where I thought that their defensive pressure, whatever it could have been, we did not have the poise offensively," Gottfried said. "They took away one option and we didn't have the wherewithal to stay with our offense and really grind out good shots."

So much has gone right for N.C. State this season, and the Wolfpack's resurgence has put the fire back into this rivalry despite a North Carolina winning streak that now stands at 11. The atmosphere in the Smith Center was electric early, at least for as long as the result was in doubt.

What's gone right for N.C. State all went wrong Thursday. The Wolfpack had the lead down to seven late in the first half, but once the Tar Heels turned it on, N.C. State showed no inclination or ability to stop them.

"It was probably 99 percent us and 1 percent them," Wood said, rather underestimating how well North Carolina played - perhaps because as North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes put it, "You could tell they were very frustrated."

On the subject of frustration, the Tar Heels haven't always played up to their potential this season, but when they do, only a handful of teams in the country can compete (and N.C. State clearly isn't one of them). When the Tar Heels don't, they can lose by 33 to Florida State - with or without Strickland.

"I think we could have been a better team when he was here," North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall said. "We just didn't take advantage of that opportunity. Moving forward now in ACC play, we're 4-1, so we've got 11 more games where we can better ourselves."

The Tar Heels picked up where they left off in the second half against Virginia Tech a week ago, with Marshall taking on the defensive duties against Brown that might otherwise have gone to Strickland and Reggie Bullock taking on Wood. Both Wood and Brown struggled mightily.

They still have to figure out how to defend the 80-footer. Other than that, there wasn't a question N.C. State asked Thursday that North Carolina didn't answer with authority.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or (919) 829-8947

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