North Carolina has long controlled its basketball rivalry against N.C. State, and the Tar Heels entered their game against the Wolfpack on Sunday with victories in 19 of the previous 21 meetings, and 42 of the past 52.
Even considering the one-sided nature of a once-competitive rivalry, though, UNC delivered the kind of authoritative beating rarely seen when the Tar Heels and Wolfpack get together. At one point on Sunday, UNC junior Justin Jackson made a long 3-pointer, bringing the Smith Center crowd to its feet.
The people stood cheering the Tar Heels’ 33-point lead. But it was only halftime, still 20 minutes to go in the Tar Heels’ eventual 107-56 victory, which was among the most one-sided in a bitter series that’s more than 100 years old.
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The game on Sunday, originally scheduled for Saturday night and postponed 17 hours after a winter storm blew through the area late Friday night and early Saturday morning, was expected to be competitive. It was an anticipated match-up between teams with high aspirations.
But, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said afterward, “We were as bad as you can possibly be.”
So bad, in fact, that the Wolfpack has only lost once, ever, by a wider margin. That defeat also came against the Tar Heels – a 62-10 loss in 1921 at Bynum Gym, on UNC’s campus. The score became so outrageous on Sunday that 96-year-old history like that became relevant.
N.C. State, (12-4, 1-2 ACC) led by the freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr., entered the Smith Center hoping for a performance that might signify some kind of national arrival. The Wolfpack left humbled, embarrassed, and in some ways its trip here was over before it really began.
The No. 14 Tar Heels (14-3, 2-1) needed less than four minutes to take a 10-point lead. From then on, during the final 35 minutes and 54 seconds, they held a double-digit lead that only grew wider and wider. Meanwhile, Smith spent the final 10 minutes of the first half on the bench after collecting his third foul.
“We were pretty doggone good,” UNC coach Roy Williams said, “and the other part of that is Dennis getting his third foul, getting in foul trouble that early in the first half was a huge part of it, too. But it sort of started snowballing.”
That it did, but it wasn’t exactly competitive before Smith was called for his third foul. By then, with about 10½ minutes remaining in the first half, the Tar Heels led 29-7. They led 56-23 at halftime, which represented UNC’s largest lead in an ACC game in the history of the Smith Center.
The Wolfpack cut its deficit to 26 points early in the second half. That’s as close as it came, though, before N.C. State finished with 26 turnovers – three more than the number of shots it made from the field. UNC, led by Justin Jackson’s 21 points, turned those turnovers into 37 points.
“I don’t know that we can play worse,” Gottfried said.
In the final minutes the only drama here in this, the 231st game between these rivals, was whether UNC would set a record for widest margin of victory the history of the series. None of the 230 games before Sunday was more one-sided than that 62-10 UNC victory in 1921.
The Tar Heels had a chance to break that record but instead ran out the clock on their final possession, the walk-ons and end-of-the-bench reserves on the court. And so it ended: UNC’s most dominant victory – by margin of victory, at least – in an ACC game.
Eight days ago, the Tar Heels lamented a poor performance, and an unexpected loss, at Georgia Tech. Then came this – the fourth time they’d ever scored 100 points against the Wolfpack, and a victory that had officials thumbing through the record book to put it into perspective.
“So that’s college basketball,” Williams said. “How things swing so quickly.”
It was something, all right.
Worst defeats in N.C. State history
52 North Carolina (1920-21) 62-10
51 North Carolina (Jan. 8, 2017) 107-56
49 VMI (1912-13) 55-6
46 Maryland (Jan. 10, 1999) 94-48
46 North Carolina (Feb. 6, 1993) 104-58
43 Virginia (1912-13) 53-10