It only felt like North Carolina took the lead, the Smith Center vibrating on a different frequency as a 14-0 run wiped out the memories of N.C. State's stellar first half and the Wolfpack took timeout after timeout after timeout.
It was as loud as any Duke game, fans answering Roy Williams' challenge just as the Tar Heels answered whatever challenge Williams issued them at halftime.
It only felt like that.
It only felt like forever since N.C. State last won at the Smith Center. Since the entire team was in grade school the last time it happened, in 2003, maybe forever isn't far off.
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“I really didn't know it was that long,” N.C. State's Trevor Lacey said.
However it felt, the closest North Carolina ever got was two. And if the Wolfpack detected the scent of history at halftime, not to mention destiny, N.C. State never lost it completely no matter how much momentum the Tar Heels had.
Not only did N.C. State win in Chapel Hill for the first time in 12 years Tuesday, 58-46, the Wolfpack all but booked its ticket for the NCAA tournament. With wins at Louisville and North Carolina, N.C. State could lose at Clemson and screw up in Greensboro and probably still make it into the field of 68.
“I definitely understand how special it is, especially being so long since we've won here and this being a rivalry,” Turner said. “As sweet as it is, we still can't really hang on this win. We still have three more tough games left. It would be easy to think this made our season and drop the rest. We have to be mature about our situation.”
Lacey, Ralston Turner and Cat Barber combined for 43 of N.C. State's 58 points while holding Marcus Paige to only seven, a thoroughly dominant performance from the Wolfpack backcourt.
If N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried could have put Barber in the middle of the Four Corners, he would have, and it wouldn't have been in tribute to Dean Smith. N.C. State's pace was unusually slow, but it worked as the Wolfpack took a 29-18 halftime lead.
“I don't know, in my memory, how many times I've seen North Carolina get 46 points in this building,” Gottfried said.
How about never? Not only was it a Smith Center low, the 18 points North Carolina scored in the first half were tied for the fewest scored in any half under Williams.
N.C. State's patience worked to start the second as well, until North Carolina started making shots and the building came alive.
Whatever's wrong with Theo Pinson's foot, it wasn't bothering him Tuesday. He was a sixth defender on the floor for North Carolina, dropping into a defensive crouch in a suit and dress shoes in front of the bench, even slapping the floor during North Carolina's run early in the second half that chopped a 16-point N.C. State lead down to two.
“We had a nice run,” Williams said, “but runs don't do you any good unless you're tough enough to withstand and keep going.”
When Paige uncharacteristically threw a pass away at one end and Lacey converted an and-one at the other to put N.C. State up eight with 90 seconds to go, that was it.
“You never can count them out, the way Paige can shoot the ball,” Lacey said, but N.C. State finished the game on an 8-0 run and the Tar Heels missed 10 of their final 12 shots, a late-game breakdown all too familiar to North Carolina after its failure to close out what should have been a win at Duke last week, only to lose in overtime.
Regulation was enough for the Wolfpack. Enough for a historic win. Enough for a fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament. At least, it felt that way.
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947