And then there were none.
No. 7 N.C. State, the last undefeated team in the nation heading into Sunday, was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten by an inspired North Carolina team.
The Tar Heels used a strong third quarter to pull away from the Wolfpack, escaping a sold out Reynolds Coliseum with a 64-51 win. It’s the second time this season that UNC knocked off a ranked team. The Tar Heels beat No. 1 Notre Dame, 78-73, Jan. 27 in Chapel Hill.
“It’s been a great week for us,” UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “I’m just proud of these kids, I love them to death. They’ve worked really, really hard. They’re just playing some really good team basketball and they are all contributing. It’s just fun to coach them and they are just awesome kids.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Stephanie Watts led the way for the Tar Heels, scoring 20 points, one of three Tar Heels in double figures. Paris Kea scored 17 and Janelle Bailey finished with a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Kiara Leslie led N.C. State with 17. Aislinn Konig finished with 13.
Leslie and Konig, who had 20 of the team’s 32 points at halftime, were a combined 2-13 from the floor in the second half.
“I think our offense got a little stagnant and were weren’t moving around the perimeter,” Leslie said. “We weren’t working our inside-out game and I think that played a little bit into us shooting that percentage.”
UNC (14-9, 5-4) outscored the Wolfpack (21-1, 8-0) 19-8 in the third quarter and that proved to be the biggest difference in the game.
“We felt like we started the game with good intensity,” Bailey said. “But we picked it up. That goes down to every half, every quarter, every second. Just the little things.”
Up until the third, the game was tied eight times and there were 12 lead changes. But the Wolfpack went 0-for-8 from the floor in the final 4:20 of the third. N.C. State shot 2-for-14 from the floor in the third.
The Tar Heels, winners of three straight coming into the contest, ended the third on an 11-2 run, forcing the Wolfpack to play catch up the rest of the way. North Carolina led by 10 heading into the final frame. State cut it to single digits on several occasions, but the hole they dug for themselves was too deep to dig out of. UNC only shot 4-of-12 from the field in the fourth, but were 83.3 percent from the line. The Wolfpack followed up their cold shooting third, by going 2-for-9 from the field in the fourth.
“I thought in the second half Carolina came out and really attacked the bucket,” Wolfpack head coach Wes Moore said. “Got to the foul line, got some easy points in transition and really turned the momentum around. I’ve got to do a better job of trying to help us be a little better offensively and be in attacking mode. The last few games we haven’t been quite as efficient offensively. It’s something we’ve got to look at.”
Leslie hit a pair of free throws to make it an eight point game with 2:20 remaining, but Watts hit a three from the top of the key as the shot clock expired to push the lead back to double-digits, the final blow in a heavyweight fight on Tobacco Road.
“It felt like it was on line,” Watts said about the desperation shot as the shot clock almost hit zero. “I guess the bank was open.”
N.C. State led by one, 32-31, at halftime, but the started the third quarter with a turnover and missed their first two shots from the field. Erika Leslie tied the game at 35 with a layup, and a three from Aislinn put the Wolfpack ahead by three, 38-35, with 6:21 to play in the third. N.C. State wouldn’t hit another field goal until D.D. Rogers scored on a layup with 6:48 remaining in the game. At that time the Tar Heels led by nine and were in full control. The Tar Heels knocked down double-digit 3s the last two games, but only hit four on Sunday. The difference this time was the points in the paint. UNC scored 30 points in the paint, compared to just 14 from N.C. State.
“We went inside,” Hatchell said. “What they gave us we took. We had that and some penetration. The second half we just had to go inside a little more.”
Bailey benefited from the attention that Kea and Watts drew outside. The 6-4 sophomore missed her first shot of the game, but took advantage of the one-on-one match-ups for her 21st game this season in double digits.
“I knew that I had single coverage,” Bailey said. “I felt good about it.”
UNC’s win over Notre Dame one week ago snapped a 198-game losing streak by unranked teams against the No. 1 team in the country, and now they have two wins over Top 10 teams in one week. The Tar Heels have their first four-game ACC win streak since the 2013-14 season and they snapped a four-game losing streak against the Wolfpack.
N.C. State would have gone 9-0 in ACC play for just the third time in school history with a win. Now that the winning streak is over, the team will look to bounce back and get the momentum going again.
“Everyone was wondering how long the streak was going to go on,” Wolfpack forward Erika Cassell said. “It’s something for us to bounce back from and it’s a learning experience. We’re going to take it and apply it to the next game, keep it going.”
UNC returns to action on Thursday when they host Duke at 7 p.m. N.C. State has a brutal stretch coming up with road games at No. 24 Florida State and No. 18 Syracuse, followed by a home game against No. 5 Notre Dame on Feb. 18.
“It’s been really exciting, but we are never satisfied,” Watts said. “We just want to keep it rolling.”