CHAPEL HILL — Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Waltiea Rolle took charge for North Carolina exactly the way their coach expected them to do.
Ruffin-Pratt matched her career high with 24 points while Rolle added a double-double to help the 16th-ranked Tar Heels beat North Carolina State 68-58 on Sunday.
Rolle finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels (25-4, 13-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), who beat their nearby rival for the 23rd time in 27 meetings. The seniors came up big during a 7-0 spurt that finally helped North Carolina build a cushion against the Wolfpack (13-15, 5-11), though the Tar Heels had to fight to the final minute to secure the win.
Both players missed the first two months of last season Rolle after giving birth, Ruffin-Pratt due to a shoulder injury but have the Tar Heels enjoying their best ACC regular season since going 14-0 in 2007-08 before either arrived on campus. UNC has clinched a top-three seed and a first-round bye in next month's ACC tournament in Greensboro.
"This time last year, I don't know if they'd have ever thought they'd be in the situation they are right now and both playing like they are right now," UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "They're seniors and they carry us and I'm just real proud of them."
Marissa Kastanek scored 17 to lead the Wolfpack, who led by six early after halftime and trailed 54-53 with 6 minutes left before UNC's decisive spurt.
Even then, N.C. State had chances only to come up empty on three straight possessions with the shot to make it a one-possession game and finished just 8-for-15 shooting free throws.
With UNC protecting its one-point lead, Ruffin-Pratt started the 7-0 run by penetrating and finding Rolle for a layup. Then, after a turnover, Megan Buckland found a trailing Rolle for a layup that came despite Wolfpack guard Len'Nique Brown hanging on the 6-foot-6 center's left arm.
Ruffin-Pratt followed that three-point play with a confident pull-up jumper in the paint at the 5-minute mark that made it 61-53, a margin that wouldn't get closer than five again. N.C. State managed just one field goal in the last 7 minutes of the game.
"We always play a lot better in the second half," Ruffin-Pratt said, "especially when we're down."
Ruffin-Pratt finished 9 for 17 from the field to go with three assists and three steals in 32 minutes. Rolle went 7 for 14 from the field and had three blocks in 31 minutes.
North Carolina shot just 39 percent (25 of 64), including a 3-for-18 stretch over 14 minutes spanning halftime as the Wolfpack pushed ahead, and missed all nine 3-pointers. But the Tar Heels converted 31 turnovers into 31 points to offset their own shaky shooting as well as N.C. State's 44-39 rebounding advantage.
"They're not going to let you make one pass easy," N.C. State coach Kellie Harper said. "I think that's what's making them so successful. They have really bought into defending, especially in the halfcourt, and they've got athletic players that can jump out and switch screens. ... They don't allow you to take advantage of mismatches when they do switch because of their ball pressure."
The Wolfpack, who led 33-32 at halftime, and shot 38 percent (23 of 60) for the game.
N.C. State played without junior guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman, who is suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team.