CHAPEL HILL — There was so much for N.C. State to like about how it played in the second half of Saturday’s game at North Carolina.
“We stayed together, we made shots,” junior guard Desmond Lee said. “We defended, we were talking.”
But Saturday’s trip to the Smith Center ended like the previous 10, another loss to UNC, this one 84-70, not because of how the Wolfpack (14-8, 4-5 ACC) played in the second half but how it started.
“I just wish we could have done that in the first half,” said Lee, who scored all 18 of his points in the second half.
Actually, the entire first half wasn’t a disaster, just the first 9 minutes. The Tar Heels (14-7, 4-4) led 20-6 after a Kennedy Meeks jumper at the 11:44 mark. The two teams scored 64 apiece the rest of the game.
What happened in the first nine minutes to the Wolfpack, which came in on a three-game winning streak?
“They were more aggressive than we were,” junior guard Ralston Turner said. “We had some turnovers, a lot of quick shots that led to fast-break points.”
And N.C. State couldn’t make a shot. The Wolfpack shot 10 of 40 (25 percent) in the first half. Conversely, in the second half, the Wolfpack made 17 of 26 shots (65.4 percent) and outscored UNC 47-44.
The difference between halves was obvious, Turner said.
“It’s really mental, I think in the second half we proved that,” Turner said. “Instead of doing that in one half, we have to do it for two.”
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried was not happy with the way the offense ran in the first half. There wasn’t enough movement, Gottfried said. The stagnant start led to 11 shots for freshman Cat Barber in the first 12 1/2 minutes of the game.
“We didn’t move well without the ball,” Gottfried said. “We were soft with the ball going to the basket. Then we had good shots and couldn’t make any of the good ones.”
Gottfried found some success in the second half going to his smaller lineup, which worked well in wins over Georgia Tech and Florida State. With Barber and Tyler Lewis on the floor together in the second half, N.C. State outscored UNC 29-16.
“In the second half, we came out and really competed hard and played well,” Gottfried said.
Lee, who made 7 of his 8 shots in the second half, was aggressive in getting to the rim. Sophomore forward T.J. Warren had 13 of his 21 points in the second half.
A mini-run, fueled by Lee and Warren, cut what was a 22-point UNC lead to 55-42 at the 11:56 mark of the second half. Instead of surging forward, the Wolfpack gave up the next eight points.
N.C. State overcame double-digit deficits in the second half in recent wins over Maryland and Georgia Tech, but not in Chapel Hill, where the Wolfpack hasn’t won since 2003.
Turner said N.C. State wasn’t looking for a moral victory, but there was a silver lining to how it played in the second half. A slow start against Virginia and poor finish of the first half at Duke led to lopsided ACC losses.
The Tar Heels were trending toward that neighborhood midway through the second half but the Wolfpack kept coming back.
“In the past, when we’ve been in that situation, we’ve kind of folded,” Turner said. “We can take that second half and use it moving forward.”