Three Points from N.C. State's 91-83 win over North Carolina:
1) Lorenzo Brown is the best player in the ACC
Brown put on a clinic with 20 points and 11 assists against the Tar Heels. Through seven ACC games, the junior point guard averages 14.7 points, 8.7 assists and has made 53.8 percent of his 3-pointers.
Brown's outside shot had been a weakness before conference play, making just 6 of his first 24 3-pointers this season, but he has made 7 of 13 in league play, including both of his 3s on Saturday.
Brown's true value, as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski pointed out two weeks ago, is in transition. N.C. State took control of the game in the first half, when it out-scored UNC 20-0 in fastbreak points.
Brown had a three-minute stretch in the first half, while State was in the midst of a 20-2 run, that was as good as any in his career.
At 5:30 in the first half, he wrapped a pass around UNC point guard Marcus Paige's back to Richard Howell for a layup. At 4:41 he abused Paige off the dribble with a strong spin and two-handed finish at the rim.
At 3:03 he grabbed a Paige miss and threw a perfect, length-of-the-court pass to State freshman Rodney Purvis in stride for a dunk and 27 seconds later, beat Paige down the court and set up T.J. Warren for an easy layup.
Paige, a freshman, got a master class from Brown on how to push tempo and attack. Brown was also instrumental in turning the team around after Tuesday's collapse at Wake Forest.
It was Brown who said the point of the team meeting on Thursday was to clean up the "nonsense" around the program since the Duke win on Jan. 12 (State had lost two of three before Saturday's win).
After the UNC game, I asked Brown if State had taken care of the "nonsense."
"You tell me," Brown replied.
He then relented.
"Everybody is back on the right page," Brown said. "Everybody was scoring and nobody was complaining about who's touching the ball more or who's shooting more. I'm just happy that we're back on track."
State's back on track largely because of Brown, who was glowingly praised by ESPN's Dick Vitale during the game but not by his own coach after the game. The way Brown's playing, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried will get another chance to compliment his best player, sooner rather than later.
2) Another 50-point half
Gottfried was livid, rightfully so, after giving up 51 points in the second half of Tuesday's 86-84 loss at Wake Forest. The Wolfpack gave up 57 points in the second half of Saturday's win.
Like a good jockey, Gottfried knows when to use the whip, and the afterglow of the first win in 14 tries against UNC was not the right time to be critical of the team's defense, but he did mention the discrepancy between the two halves.
"The first 20 minutes, I thought defensively we were as fundamentally sound and unselfish as I've seen us be," Gottfried said. "I loved our defense in the first half, and that's how we've got play."
N.C. State gave up 26 points in the first half and held UNC to 30.3 percent from the floor. In the second half, UNC made 60.5 percent of its shots, including 68 percent (17 of 25) of its 2-pointers.
"Parts of the second half, we weren't nearly as good defensively, but we can get there," Gottfried said.
Where this second-half trend becomes problematic is Gottfried attributed the problems to fatigue. To Gottfried's point, UNC scored 12 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, compared to 40 in the final 10 minutes.
If you break down the scoring into four 10-minute quarters, N.C. State won the first 22-12, the second 23-14, the third 18-17 then lost the fourth 40-28.
Gottfried has settled on a six-man rotation, with Warren (27 minutes) coming off the bench. Gottfried used forward Jordan Vandenberg for 3 minutes in the first half, to spell C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell, and guard Tyler Lewis for 3 minutes in the second half to spell Brown.
With Miami lurking next Saturday, along with the return trip to Duke (Feb. 7), Gottfried has to try to get more out of Vandenberg. The junior 7-footer was relatively productive at Wake, when Leslie and Warren were in the foul trouble, and there's no reason Gottfried can't get 8 solid minutes a game out of Vandenberg, if for no other reason than to give fouls.
3) Whose state is it?
With wins over UNC and Duke, N.C. State can certainly make its "This is our state" claim. There's still the matter of Tuesday's loss to Wake Forest, and return trips to both Chapel Hill and Durham, before that will be decided, though.
But for N.C. State, Saturday's win was important, as was the win over Duke two weeks ago. There's the practical matter of you can't win the ACC without going through those two teams.
Then there's the psychological effect of knowing you can beat the blue teams. N.C. State had Duke by 20 at Cameron last year and lost. It had UNC in the ACC tournament and Kendall Marshall got them at the wire. It's one thing to be picked in front of UNC and Duke in the preseason, it's another to go out and actually beat those teams.
Getting the best of UNC coach Roy Williams has been particularly difficult for State. Williams hasn't just crushed State with his really good teams, he also won all the games (in theory) State should have at least split, in 2006 (Herb Sendek's best team) and 2010 (Williams' worst team).
"Our program has lost a lot of games to North Carolina. They're good and have been good," Gottfried said. "We're trying to get good. At some point, you've got to turn it a little bit. This is a start."
Yes, a start. The next step is following up wins over Duke and UNC without a letdown.
Otherwise, it will be Miami's "state."
Bonus) About the refs
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Mike Eades is the best official the ACC has. It was no surprise to see Eades work Saturday's spotlight game, along with veterans Mike Stuart and Ray Styons.
I appreciate Eades' work because he has a tendency to let the players decide the game and for the way he handles the coaches.
Saturday's final foul tally was 25. UNC finished with 16 fouls but six of those fouls were in the final 56 seconds when UNC was trying to foul, which makes it a 10-9 split.
Now, UNC wasn't especially thrilled with two early fouls on star forward James Michael McAdoo, but neither was a 50-50 call and McAdoo was able to play 17 minutes in the second half before fouling out.
Twenty-five combined fouls is a welcome change to Tuesday's game at Wake (44) and the ACC opener at Boston College (44) on Jan. 5. Eades also worked State's loss to Maryland on Jan. 16, which had 22 combined fouls.