North Carolina’s 67-55 victory against N.C. State came in a game defined by defense: the defense the Wolfpack played, holding UNC to its worst shooting performance of the season, and the defense UNC played, too, against Cat Barber, the Wolfpack’s leading scorer.
“We tried to keep him contained,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said.
Mission accomplished. Barber entered the game Saturday averaging 22.5 points but finished with a season-low nine. He made four of his 11 shots from the field.
Joel Berry was primarily responsible for defending Barber. Nate Britt took his turn, too.
“(I) just tried to stay in front, not get on his side,” Berry said. “Because once he’s passed you, he’s fast. … I just tried to stay in front of him, tried to contain him. And I think I did a pretty good job with doing that.”
Barber has been the engine that has made N.C. State go this season. He has been primarily responsible for the Wolfpack’s success, when it has had success.
And so that was part of UNC’s strategy on Saturday: Contain Barber and force N.C. State to find other ways to score.
“He’s the key part of their team,” Berry said. “If we stop him, we pretty much had the game.”
MARTIN FOR MARTIN: Caleb Martin came off the bench for N.C. State for the first time this season on Saturday. The Wolfpack still had a Martin in the starting lineup.
Cody Martin made his first start and the change worked out for both twins. Cody Martin had 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes.
Caleb Martin, who has been in a shooting slump, scored nine points and had two steals in 21 minutes. Caleb shot 3 of 5 overall and was 1 of 2 from the 3-point line. He had been 8 of 33 from the 3-point line in ACC play.
“I think he was just in a funk,” Cody said of his brother. “That’s just something he has to deal with. He’s going to get it right. He’ll be fine.”
REBOUNDING REVERSAL: Williams, the UNC coach, was concerned by N.C. State’s offensive rebounding. The Wolfpack have excelled in that area at times this season.
And so it was again, early, on Saturday. At one point in the first half N.C. State had seven offensive rebounds to UNC’s one. The Tar Heels, though, finished with 21 offensive rebounds to N.C. State’s 17.
After the Wolfpack controlled the offensive boards early, UNC finished with a 24-23 advantage in second-chance points.
ABU SHINES: Sophomore forward Abdul-Malik Abu had a double-double for the seventh time in 10 games. He led the Wolfpack with 12 points and had a game-high 14 rebounds.
“Malik needs to be involved in a big way,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “He’s starting to emerge. The guy has been getting better and better.”
Abu is averaging 13.4 points and 9.8 rebounds in five ACC games and has stepped up to give N.C. State a consistent scoring option to junior guard Cat Barber.
N.C. State opened each half by feeding Abu in the post against UNC forward Brice Johnson, who came into the game as UNC’s leading scorer.
“I knew Brice Johnson, matching up, is a great player,” Abu said. “I just wanted to show that I’m a great one, too.”