North Carolina won the first of what it hopes will be three games at PNC Arena this season on Wednesday night.
With a double-double from senior forward Brice Johnson, the seventh-ranked Tar Heels dispatched N.C. State 80-68 for a road ACC win.
With first- and second-round NCAA tournament games in Raleigh next month, the ACC-leading Tar Heels (23-5, 12-3 ACC) are on track to be back here.
“In the big picture that’s always something we’ve thought about, to be a 1 seed and be in Raleigh,” UNC’s Marcus Paige said. “It’s 20 minutes down the road from home and that would be a big advantage. We’re putting ourselves in that position.”
UNC won for the 11th time in 13 games at N.C. State (14-14, 4-11), but this wasn’t another showcase game from Paige. Paige, who had averaged 29 points in his previous two trips to PNC Arena, had a relatively quiet night with 10 points but Johnson, who had 22 points and 11 rebounds, picked up the slack.
“I thought Brice was the key, he was the difference,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “He is their guy and was tonight for them.”
Not that N.C. State or junior guard Cat Barber made it easy. Barber broke out of a two-game mini-slump with 32 points. Barber came out making jump shots and crossing up defenders like he was Allen Iverson, Tim Hardaway and Steph Curry all rolled into one player.
Barber made seven of his first nine shots and the Wolfpack jumped out to a 23-10 advantage 7 minutes and 54 seconds into the game. But the Wolfpack went cold, and Barber missed his next six shots, just as Justin Jackson (17 points) led a 26-4 surge by the Heels to take control of the game.
Jackson was aggressive in going to the rim and attacking the basket. He finished the first half 6 of 9 from the floor and with 14 points. The sophomore wing pegged UNC to a 38-33 lead at the half.
N.C. State got as close as four points, 52-48, after a 3-pointer by Caleb Martin at 13:40 in the second half but UNC answered with a 7-0 run and then cruised in for the double-digit win.