N.C. State heads to Chapel Hill Saturday for the first time since the Wolfpack lost 107-56 to UNC on Jan. 8, 2017. Here’s a look back at that meeting – a game that was postponed 17 hours by a winter storm and would eventually lead to the firing of N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried.
These stories were originally published on newsobserver.com the day of the game.
Historic rout: Heels maul Pack in Chapel Hill
By Andrew Carter
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
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.
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.
“So that’s college basketball,” Williams said. “How things swing so quickly.”
Gottfried: We were really, really bad
By Joe Giglio
CHAPEL HILL Normally, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried can find one thing he liked from each game, even in a loss, but not a Sunday.
A 51-point blowout tends to leave you at a loss for words. North Carolina embarrassed N.C. State in every possible way on Sunday to win its ACC home opener 107-56.
The Wolfpack (12-4, 1-2 ACC) had more turnovers (a season-high 26) than field goals (23) and was outrebounded 50-36.
It all added up to the most points UNC has scored in the history of the rivalry, which goes back to 1913, and the second-most lopsided loss to the Tar Heels ever.
The only loss that was worse? A 62-10 decision in UNC’s Bynum Gym in February 1921.
There is no wonder then when Gottfried was asked if he liked anything about his team’s performance, he said: “Nope. Nope. We were bad. We were really, really bad.”
It was bad from the start for N.C. State, which was actually coming off its best performance of the season, a 104-78 home win over Virginia Tech on Wednesday. The Wolfpack started 2-of-14 from the field and fell behind 33-7 while UNC made the first of two 20-0 runs.
Freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr., coming off of a triple-double in the Virginia Tech win, missed his first three shots and picked up his second foul at 16:06 in the first half.
Smith picked up his third foul at 10:17, after a collision with UNC wing Theo Pinson while the two were pursuing a loose ball. Gottfried picked up a technical foul from referee Matt Potter after arguing about the call.
UNC led 56-23 by the half and would have only had to score one point in the second half to win the game. As it was, the Tar Heels scored 51 points in the second half to break the triple-digit mark for only the fourth time in the series with the Wolfpack.
It was the first time since a 108-71 loss at Duke on Feb. 14, 2002 that the Wolfpack gave up 100 points in an ACC game.
“They came out and brought it, and we didn’t respond,” N.C. State sophomore Torin Dorn said.
There wasn’t much push back from the Wolfpack with Smith in foul trouble and shots going astray (9-of-30 in the first half).
N.C. State couldn’t take care of the ball and couldn’t defend the 3-point line. The Tar Heels went 8-of-17 (47.1 percent) from 3 in the first half while building a 33-point lead.
“It was the perfect storm,” Gottfried said. “They were really good, and I think we were as bad as you can possible be.”
Gottfried can only hope that is the case.
UNC sees red in record-breaking win against NCSU
By Andrew Carter
CHAPEL HILL Justin Jackson said he didn’t appreciate what was happening until halftime, after he made a 3-pointer from near the top of the key and ran off to the court while people at the Smith Center stood and cheered one of UNC’s greatest first-half performances in the history of the building.
Only then, said Jackson, the Tar Heels’ junior wing forward, did he pay attention to the margin, then 33 points wide. The numbers began running together, too, for Joel Berry, the junior point guard. At one point he caught a glimpse of the scoreboard and “I was a little surprised,” he said.
On the other side of a room after the Tar Heels’ 107-56 victory on Sunday against N.C. State, Isaiah Hicks, the UNC senior forward, was saying that he, too, had blocked out the score - and UNC’s ever-growing margin - until it became impossible to ignore.
“I came out and looked up like, ‘Dang,’ “ Hicks said. “I mean, that’s all I could say.”
That’s just about all anyone could say amid this, the Tar Heels’ largest margin of victory in an ACC game in school history. They needed about four minutes to take a 10-point lead, and then it grew to 15 points, to 20, to 30, to 45 and kept climbing.
Nobody saw this sort of thing happening. Not Hicks and his teammates and not UNC coach Roy Williams, who spoke afterward, eight days after a stunning loss at Georgia Tech, of “how things swing so quickly” in this sport.
“I thought since it’s UNC going against North Carolina State, I thought it was going to be a little edge on their side, as well,” said Berry, who finished with 19 points and five assists. “But we came out and jumped on them.”
That was perhaps the most succinct way to put it. The details: UNC pressured N.C. State into committing 10 turnovers during the first 11 minutes and hounded the Wolfpack when it managed to generate attempts from the field. Those, though, often missed, and UNC led by 26 points midway through the first half.
Game over, essentially. This on Sunday was early-season UNC - the team that played so well in November that some wondered, with a straight face, whether these Tar Heels might be even better than the ones who played on the final night of the NCAA tournament early last April. It was a fair question about six weeks ago.
And then came the humbling: the ugly loss at Indiana, the inability to hold on late in a thriller against Kentucky and then whatever it was that ailed the Tar Heels last weekend in Atlanta, where they lost by 12 points against a Georgia Tech team that was picked to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC.
Amid those defeats were slow starts and closer-than-expected victories, sluggish wins against Davidson, Tennessee and Clemson. And there was another question, too, far different from the one in November: What happened to the team that looked so good on its way to the Maui Invitational championship?
That team returned on Sunday, after a 17-hour wait to get going. That was the length of postponement after UNC’s game against N.C. State, originally scheduled for 8 p.m. on Saturday, was moved to early Sunday afternoon. Berry passed the time on Saturday night, he said, watching movies, staying in.
He focused on the task ahead. He’d heard all the talk about N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr., the freshman who some say might be good enough to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft next summer. This wasn’t about Berry vs. Smith, Berry said.
Still, said Berry, “I’m a competitive person, and I don’t want anyone saying that someone’s better than I am. And that’s why I had a little edge today, and I always go out there with an edge. ... I just felt like I wanted the edge on him, and I did that today.”
Smith committed two fouls during the first four minutes, while UNC built that early 10-point lead. Then came Smith’s third foul midway through the first half. Mark Gottfried, the N.C. State coach, reacted with so much disgust his outburst cost him a technical foul.
About the same time, a small bird flew across the court, creating a momentary diversion. When things continued, with Smith on the bench the rest of the half, it became no less like a twilight zone of dysfunction for the Wolfpack.
N.C. State endured its second-worst defeat in school history - second only to a 52-point defeat against UNC in 1921, at the venerable Bynum Gymnasium on UNC’s campus.
Wolfpack wilts under bright lights; Tar Heels dazzle
By Luke DeCock
CHAPEL HILL These are the bright lights, whether they’re on a Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon. These are the big games. These are the ones that matter, the ones that can be remembered long after the players and coaches have moved along - and are when they end up like this.
You’re either ready for that glare or you’re not. North Carolina, with Theo Pinson finally in the lineup, has been through this before, so many times, on bigger stages than this. The Tar Heels barely flinched.
And N.C. State? Not even close.
This was North Carolina’s game before it even tipped, whether it was played at night or during the day, on Saturday or Sunday. The Tar Heels were ready for this. After that embarrassing loss to Georgia Tech and the narrow win at Clemson, they were waiting for this chance, their home ACC opener against a team that Roy Williams cares very deeply about beating.
And N.C. State, after knocking off a ranked opponent at home, was eager for its first real step onto the national stage, to see Dennis Smith Jr. measure himself against Joel Berry, talking about adopting a “bad boys” mentality, only to be utterly overwhelmed by the opponent and scene to suffer the second-biggest loss in program history to not only North Carolina but any opponent, 107-56.
Too much, too soon.
It’s easy to focus on how bad N.C. State was, because the Wolfpack was truly awful from the start, but that risks overlooking just how good North Carolina was. With Pinson back, the Tar Heels unleashed their full power to score their most points ever against N.C. State. Williams, desperate for something to complain about at halftime while up by 33, settled on offensive rebounding, although his team didn’t have many misses to rebound.
“We’ve had some days, it’s about as ugly as it can possibly be,” Williams said. “Today, it was awfully pretty at times.”
Despite the 26-point home shellacking of Virginia Tech, the Wolfpack has looked utterly overwhelmed in its two road ACC games. With two likely top-15 picks, another potential first-rounder and two transfers who averaged double digits in other conferences, there should be more here than there is. But N.C. State has only a passing acquaintance with defense, and while its offense can be explosive at times, it has twice now gotten lost in the moment in ACC play.
That was clear from the start Sunday. The Wolfpack had seven turnovers and was 2-for-12 from the field by the time North Carolina was up 26-4. At one point, the Wolfpack had as many airballs (three) as field goals. N.C. State even had a 30-second violation in each half, apparently in pursuit of some kind of bad-basketball bingo.
“We rushed offensively,” Gottfried said. “We were in a hurry. All of a sudden it goes from six to 10 to 15, and now it’s kind of like an avalanche, trying to stop it. We didn’t have enough poise early on.”
Give North Carolina a lot of credit for that: If N.C. State couldn’t stop making mistakes, it was partly because the Tar Heels gave the Wolfpack absolutely no room to breathe. Once Smith exited with his third foul midway through the first half, whatever hopes N.C. State had of making a comeback went with him, not that there was much chance of that anyway.
Only three times before had North Carolina ever hit triple-digits against N.C. State, and not for 24 years. Two years ago, the Wolfpack turned the tables, breaking a 12-game losing streak at the Smith Center. That group, while also full of transfers and young players, had something this team clearly lacks at the moment. It’s one thing to lose at North Carolina, and there’s no shame in it when the Tar Heels play like this. It’s something else entirely to lose like this, N.C. State’s worst loss in almost a century.
The Wolfpack wanted to play under these bright lights, but they can just as easily blind you.
NC State at UNC
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill