RALEIGH — At the end of the night it was the beginning of the night that mattered most Saturday in the PNC Arena.
Going in, N.C. States basketball team had junior Lorenzo Brown at point guard and North Carolina could only counter with freshman Marcus Paige.
A mismatch of experience, size, adaptability, focus and fury ensued that resulted in an emotional 91-83 victory for the Wolfpack.
There were other factors, of course. It wasnt a one-man win any more than a one-man loss.
And for that matter, there were other questions to be mulled about the Wolfpack even amid the teams celebration.
Specifically, theres the topic of the Packs ability to perform with the same intensity and precision when the opponent isnt Duke or Carolina and when the game is played somewhere other than in the PNC.
Theres no guarantee that the Packs next game Tuesday at Virginia wont be a repeat of recent losses at Maryland and Wake Forest.
But for about 30 minutes on a national stage, the 18th-ranked Pack (16-4, 5-2 ACC) was in Final Four form primarily because Brown put on a performance befitting a Final Four leader and offensive distributor.
At 6-foot-5 and 186 pounds, Brown dwarfed Paige (6-0, 157) as much in game as in frame.
While Brown was piling up 20 points, 11 assists, two steals and three rebounds, Paige was spending the night in freshman orientation and eventually was relieved for a few minutes in the second half by lightly-used transfer Luke Davis.
Paige went 29 minutes, finishing with seven points and four assists but missed nine shots and was frequently overwhelmed by Browns size and quickness in transition.
Zo had a great game, that was the key, said Pack big man Richard Howell (16 points, 14 boards, three assists).
The Tar Heels (13-6, 3-3) didnt quit and even managed to slice a 28-point deficit to five at one point in the second half an upshot in large part of UNCs long bench and States dangerous lack thereof.
But Brown was more than UNCs defense could withstand from the opening minutes, and he understood Paiges dilemma.
I know its tough being a freshman point guard out there, Brown said. I watched Ryan (Harrow) go through that a couple of years ago. Its not easy. I knew we had to attack him from the start.
We got off to a good start, too. We were able to get (James Michael) McAdoo in some foul trouble early and made the most of that. They dont really have a post scorer without him.
But Brown and his teammates didnt attempt to de-emphasize the final several minutes of the game. Seemingly dead, the Tar Heels recovered to eventually win the second half, 57-46.
That was the real State for the first half, but hopefully not in the second half, Brown said. After we got the big lead, we made too many turnovers and our defense wasnt as sharp.