Well, it wasn’t by 51 points.
N.C. State lost to North Carolina again on Wednesday night and it was closer than the first meeting between the two teams this season.
Junior guard Joel Berry scored 18 points and sophomore forward Luke Maye added a career-high 13 points to lead the No. 10 Tar Heels to an easy 97-73 win at PNC Arena. It was their 27th win in 30 games under coach Roy Williams against the Wolfpack.
How much a better effort in defeat will help beleaguered N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried is up to Wolfpack athletic director Debbie Yow.
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N.C. State (14-13, 3-11 ACC) has lost six straight in league play and Gottfried’s future has come in doubt. Lopsided losses have cost Gottfried this season and Wednesday’s loss was the fourth time in the last six games the Wolfpack lost by 24 points or more.
UNC blasted N.C. State 107-56 in the first meeting on Jan. 8 in Chapel Hill to get some of the fan angst against Gottfried rolling.
The first-place Heels (22-5, 10-3 ACC), No. 1 in the country in rebounding margin, dominated on the glass (41 to 25) and got a balanced scoring effort with five players in double figures.
Freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr., a non-factor in his first game against UNC, led N.C. State with 27 points. He scored 11 straight points for the Wolfpack in one sequence in the first half to help cut what was a 17-point UNC lead down to 37-31.
But UNC got two quick baskets from junior wing Theo Pinson (12 points), an uncontested dunk by Maye. After Maye’s drive, a chant of “Let’s go Tar Heels!” broke out in the capacity PNC Arena crowd, which featured prominent pockets of Carolina blue.
A pair of late 3s, one from Berry and one from junior wing Justin Jackson (14 points), staked the Heels to a 51-37 halftime lead and they kept building on it in the first 6 minutes of the second half.
A 3-pointer by Maye at 12:56 extended UNC’s lead to 67-48 and prompted a “Luuuuuke” chant from the UNC fans.
UNC was up 86-59 with 4 minutes left when most of the N.C. State fans exited the building. The Heels leave in first place with everything in front of them.
N.C. State is left to wonder who will be its coach for the rest of the season.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio