Marcus Paige, the North Carolina senior guard, said on Friday that he had “kind of forgot” that the Tar Heels scored the fewest points they ever had in the Smith Center last year during an ugly 58-46 loss against N.C. State.
“What was it – like 40-something?” Paige asked reporters during a press conference on Friday. Told that UNC had scored 46 points he continued his thought. “Yeah, so we’re aware of that and we’re aware of how we played last year and how we got out-played in all aspects of the game.”
UNC coach Roy Williams, though, remembers the specifics. He remembers his team’s point total from that loss last season against N.C. State, which visits the Smith Center again Saturday. He remembers the disappointment, the humiliation, that came with those points – the fewest by any UNC team ever in the building where it has played its home games since 1986.
The UNC-N.C. State basketball rivalry has long been overshadowed by the one the Tar Heels share with Duke. But to Williams, games against N.C. State are as important as any, because N.C. State is the school that, when Williams was growing up, was UNC’s fiercest rival.
So naturally, Williams bristled a bit on Friday when asked if he was worried about his players overlooking the Wolfpack given its 0-4 start in the ACC. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, are 4-0 in conference play for the first time under Williams, and are ranked fifth nationally.
On paper it looks like a mismatch. It looks like UNC should have its way on Saturday.
Still, Williams said, “If we slack up I’m really going to be ticked.”
Because, for one, of what happened the last time these teams played, when N.C. State left Chapel Hill with that 58-46 victory. But also because it’s a conference game, and a rivalry game at that.
“It’s the ACC, it’s North Carolina against North Carolina State,” Williams said. “Our record was better than their record was last year, if I’m not mistaken, and they came in here and whacked us in our own building. The fewest points ever scored by a North Carolina team in the Smith Center.
“I’ve got a very short memory, I can remember that kind of stuff. Got a long memory, too. But I don’t think I’ll have to say anything about them being fired up. I mean, this is the ACC. And again, it is North Carolina-North Carolina State.”
The way Williams sees it, he shouldn’t even have to remind his team of the loss against N.C. State last February. The memories, and how it transpired, should be readily accessible.
“I don’t have to say anything,” Williams said. “I said, ‘You guys remember?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ So I leave it alone. I mean, they’d have to be brain dead. It was the fewest points ever scored by a North Carolina team in the Smith Center. If I have to remind them of that we’re not very competitive.”
Not that that’s stopped Williams from bringing it up. In practice on Thursday, for instance, Williams referenced the 58-46 loss against N.C. State “multiple times,” Paige said. Williams wasn’t yelling, Paige said, though he could tell that what happened last year still bothered his coach.
The way Paige told the story, Williams kept his words, and his message, simple.
“He just said, ‘If I remember correctly last year, they beat us this score to this score,’ ” Paige said. “Or, ‘If I remember, they came in here and they beat our butts.’ Stuff like that. Just very straight forward and as a matter-of-fact, with a little sarcasm like that, too. …
“But he’s fired up and I think we are, too.”