N.C. State saw its 16-point second-half lead shrink to two, and it heard the Smith Center crowd at its loudest of the season, and it might have then sensed, perhaps, what so many other Wolfpack teams have when they’ve traveled to this building: doom.
Just when N.C. State seemed on the brink of collapse, though, it discovered some resolve and some grit – and made some shots, too. The Wolfpack left Chapel Hill with a 58-46 victory over No. 15 North Carolina – N.C. State’s first win in this building since 2003.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfriend said, “and the other thing I’m really proud of and excited about is that we had a nice lead, they made a run, you kind of knew it was coming, the rafters were shaking, and then our guys settled in and answered it.
“We answered their run, which I thought was really important and was really something I was very proud of for our team, so it’s a great win for us.”
Before Tuesday night, N.C. State had never won in the Smith Center against a Roy Williams-coached UNC team. Between now and the last time the Wolfpack won in Chapel Hill, there had been 12 consecutive N.C. State losses at the Smith Center, and only a few of them had been competitive.
“Great team win! My brothers and I went out there and took care of business!!!” Wolfpack forward BeeJay Anya tweeted.
The Wolfpack, though, broke that streak with one of its finest defensive games of the season and, in the process, earned a victory that will go a long way toward securing a bid to the NCAA tournament. The loss, meanwhile, was a confounding one for UNC, which was coming off two of its strongest games.
The momentum the Tar Heels had built during that 92-90 loss at Duke last week and in a blowout victory against Georgia Tech on Saturday mattered not against N.C. State, though. UNC’s 46 points were its fewest ever in the Smith Center. The Tar Heels shot 34.5 percent.
“I didn’t know that,” Gottfried said of the low Tar Heels point total, “but it makes us feel good about what we did. And again, I don’t think it’s going to happen very often, and some of that was us and some of that was them missing shots.”
N.C. State controlled it from the start. The Wolfpack took its first lead with about 17 ½ minutes to play in the first half and it never trailed after that.
N.C. State recently had so often been done in by Marcus Paige, the UNC junior guard. who scored 23 points in the Tar Heels’ victory against N.C. State in Raleigh last month, and who averaged 20 points against the Wolfpack in two victories a season ago.
This time, though, Paige finished with just seven points. Cat Barber led N.C. State with 15 points and Trevor Lacey and Ralson Turner both scored 14 points.
The Wolfpack held a commanding lead early in the second half, but the Tar Heels nearly came all the way back. N.C. State led 36-20 with a little less than 16 minutes remaining.
From there, though, the Tar Heels began a run that had the Smith Center crowd – which had recently drawn the ire of Williams for being too quiet and passive – as loud as it has been all season.
UNC’s run began innocently enough, with a jump shot from Justin Jackson, the freshman forward, that made it a 14-point game. Then 30 seconds later Jackson made another jumper, the crowd began to come to life.
Gottfried called a timeout then, his team’s lead cut to 12 points. Then, about a minute later, Gottfried called another timeout after UNC had cut its deficit to eight. And then Gottfried was signaling for another timeout not long after that after the Wolfpack’s lead had shrunk to four.
In the span of about 3½ minutes, the Tar Heels had gone from trailing by 16 to trailing by four. In a little more than a few minutes, they had pulled off a 12-0 run that all but erased the memory of an abysmal first half.
UNC, though, never tied the game and never led after it scored the first two points.
“We made a nice run, but runs don’t do you any good unless you’re tough enough to withstand and keep going.”
Williams said he and his team let the crowd down, and N.C. State, which shot 35.1 percent, neutralized the Tar Heels inside. “Defensively, they were sensational,” Williams said.