N.C. State (16-11, 7-7 ACC) at No. 15 UNC (19-8, 9-5)
When/where: 8 p.m., Tuesday, Smith Center, Chapel Hill
TV/RADIO: WRAL; 101.5-WRAL, 106.1-WTKK
Last time: Marcus Paige scored 23 points and UNC held off a furious rally for an 81-79 win at PNC Arena. The Wolfpack had a chance to force overtime, but Cody Martin’s tip at the buzzer off a missed free throw was wide.
PPG: N.C. State 71.5; UNC 79.5. Allowed: N.C. State 66.5; UNC 68.9
Guard: Paige vs. Barber
UNC’s Marcus Paige (13.6 ppg, 4.4 apg) vs. N.C. State’s Cat Barber (11.7 ppg, 3.7 apg)
Barber has been better recently (with 21 assists and five turnovers in the past five games), and he’s healthier than Paige, but you have to grade Paige on a curve when it comes to N.C. State. In five career games, Paige has averaged 18.8 points against the Wolfpack, compared to an 11.7 career average against the rest of the ACC.
Paige made all five of his 3-point attempts in UNC’s 81-79 win in Raleigh on Jan. 14 for a season-best 23 points. Plus, he added nine assists and four steals.
Barber’s confidence is at an all-time high with the way he has been able to get to the rim and shoot the ball in the past five games, but he hasn’t done much in his career against the Tar Heels (7.0 ppg, 2.0 assists per game).
Guard: Jackson vs. Lacey
UNC’s Justin Jackson (9.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg) vs. N.C. State’s Trevor Lacey (16.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Jackson has been relatively quiet this season. He hasn’t emerged as a complementary perimeter scoring option to Paige but he has quietly averaged 9.6 points. In the past four games, he has pitched in 5.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. In short, he hasn’t hurt UNC but he hasn’t helped as much as it seemed possible in the preseason.
Lacey has been one of the best all-around guards in the ACC, scoring (16.4 ppg), helping on the boards (4.6 per game) and distributing the ball (3.5 assists per game). He has a knack for making contested and pressure shots. The only knock on Lacey is he could probably be more aggressive. He has some stretches, usually in the middle of the second half, where he gets too passive, but when he makes up his mind to carry N.C. State, he usually delivers.
Edge: N.C. State
Guard: Tokoto vs. Turner
UNC’s J.P. Tokoto (8.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg) vs. N.C. State’s Ralston Turner (12.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Do you want a specialist – Turner’s 3-point shooting? Or do you prefer Tokoto’s jack-of-all-trades game?
Tokoto could use an “only shoot if it’s a dunk” rule, but there’s no arguing with his hustle or passing acumen. He seems to have found his stride since a poor outing vs. Pittsburgh, with 27 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists in the past two games.
Turner has played through knee pain, which has slowed him in the second half of the season, but he’s certainly capable of reprising the role of Mark Davis, Lakista McCuller or C.C. Harrison as “hot 3-point shooter who leads N.C. State to an upset of UNC.”
Forward: Johnson vs. Freeman
UNC’s Brice Johnson (12.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg) vs. N.C. State’s Lennard Freeman (3.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
Freeman has started the past two games, at Kyle Washington’s expense, because he’s the better rebounder and defender.
“He just does the right things,” Turner said of Freeman.
Overall, N.C State does seem to operate more smoothly with Freeman on the floor, but Johnson will be a tough cover for him. Johnson is bigger, with long arms, and has a polished offensive game. When he is really rolling, UNC is at its best. Foul trouble slowed Johnson in the first game in Raleigh, but the matchup is there for him to put up good numbers.
Forward: Meeks vs. Abu
UNC’s Kennedy Meeks (12.9 ppt, 7.5 rpg) vs. N.C. State’s Abdul-Malik Abu (5.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
Abu has the highest ceiling of N.C. State’s four bigs, and has has put up some good games in recent ACC play, but he’s still a year behind Meeks in his development.
Meeks has provided consistent inside scoring and rebounding this season. When he rips off those long outlet passes, it gets UNC going in transition, and when the Tar Heels are scoring in transition, they are at their most dangerous.
UNC’s bench outscored N.C. State’s 19-9 in the first game, with forward Isaiah Hicks (12 points in 22 minutes) doing most of the damage. The Tar Heels are getting more productive minutes from jumbo-sized forward Joel James, plus the return of guard Joel Berry from a variety of ailments provided a lift in the overtime loss at Duke.
N.C. State will need forward BeeJay Anya, who fouled out of the first game, against UNC’s size. Washington didn’t play Saturday against Virginia Tech, coach’s decision, but he had 17 points in the earlier meeting with the Tar Heels.