Examined one way, the entirety of North Carolina’s 107-56 victory against N.C. State on Sunday constituted one giant scoring run. Over 40 minutes, the Tar Heels outscored the Wolfpack by 51 points.
That sort of says it all, and without providing any detail about anything else it’s clear UNC had its way, in every way, against the Wolfpack at the Smith Center. The 51-point margin of victory was UNC’s largest in any ACC game, ever.
To give that some perspective, the Tar Heels on Sunday were playing their 924th regular-season ACC game, and their 1,064th ACC game overall, including those they’ve played in the ACC tournament. Not one of them ended with a wider scoring disparity than the one on Sunday against N.C. State.
It was a history-making performance in more ways than one. UNC’s 33-point halftime lead was the largest against an ACC team in the history of the Smith Center. And the 107 points were the most UNC had ever scored against N.C. State in this, the 231st time they’d played.
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Maybe one day there will come another UNC victory against N.C. State that’s similarly one-sided. It might take another 96 years, though. That’s how long it has been since UNC’s 62-10 victory against the Wolfpack in 1921 – a victory that remained, by a single point, UNC’s most dominant win in the series.
That 52-point loss remains N.C. State’s worst in school history. What happened on Sunday at the Smith Center moves into second place. But how did it happen? How did everything go so colossally wrong for the Wolfpack, and how was UNC able to build the kind of margin it did on Sunday?
The story begins and ends with UNC’s quick, forceful scoring runs that allowed it to extend the lead, dramatically, in a short amount of time. In some ways, the first of those runs effectively ended the competitive portion of the game before it ever really began.
Three times on Sunday, UNC scored at least 10 consecutive points before N.C. State scored again. Two of those times, the Tar Heels scored at least 20 consecutive points between Wolfpack scoring possessions.
The first of those runs began a little more than three minutes into the game. It began after N.C. State’s Malik-Abdul Abu tipped in a missed shot to cut UNC’s early lead to 6-4 with a little less than 17 minutes remaining in the first half.
UNC scored on its next possession, which ended with two Joel Berry free throws, and it kept scoring. After Abu’s tip-in, in fact, the Tar Heels scored the next 20 consecutive points. UNC went from leading 6-4 about three minutes into the game to leading 26-4 with 11½ minutes remaining before halftime.
Starting the moment after the Abu tip-in and ending with Berry’s 3-pointer that gave UNC a 26-4 lead, here’s what happened during those five minutes, 14 seconds: UNC made seven of its 10 field-goal attempts, including three of its five 3-point attempts. N.C. State, meanwhile, missed seven consecutive shots from the field, missed two free throws and committed four turnovers.
That statistics are one thing. To understand the full carnage, though, is to understand exactly how it happened, though, and UNC’s 20-0 run happened for a couple of reasons: N.C. State couldn’t run its offense, and UNC had little difficultly running its own against a Wolfpack defense that existed in name only.
After Berry’s free throws gave UNC an 8-4 lead, N.C. State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr., forced a fadeaway jump shot that missed. On its next possession, UNC’s Kenny Williams made a wide-open 3-pointer from the left side – an N.C. State defender not in sight. That moment bled into the next, when Smith threw a lazy pass that Kennedy Meeks jumped in front of and took the other way.
The 6-foot-10, 260-pound Meeks lumbered down the court for a layup and Smith fouled him – committing his second foul in the process, which sent Smith to the bench with about 16 minutes remaining in the first half. Meeks completed the three-point play, and without Smith, who some believe could be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft next summer, N.C. State’s offense became no better.
After Smith went out, N.C. State’s next three possessions ended like this: a turnover on a backcourt pass, a badly-missed 3-pointer by Markell Johnson and Isaiah Hicks’ blocked shot on Abu, a play that led to Williams’ transition layup. After Abu airballed a shot on N.C. State’s next possession, Justin Jackson made another wide-open 3-pointer from the top of the key. Maverick Rowan made a half-hearted attempt to get a hand up.
That was a constant theme on Sunday: bad N.C. State offense followed by even worse N.C. State defense. After Smith reentered the game a couple of minutes later, N.C. State committed two more turnovers – one of them on an inbounds pass the Wolfpack threw into the backcourt and out of bounds – and UNC continued to capitalize on the other end. The rout was on.
The Tar Heels’ first run of consecutive double-digit points gave them a 20-point lead. They extended it to 30 with their next such run, which began with about 7½ minutes remaining before halftime. Before that run began, UNC led 33-12. That was the score for nearly two minutes, with N.C. State failing to take advantage of a couple of empty UNC possessions.
After the Wolfpack’s 11th turnover – which came on a shot-clock violation – Hicks scored on a three-point play. Another N.C. State turnover led to two Seventh Woods free throws and, after the Wolfpack missed a 3-point attempt, UNC ran its break to perfection and scored on Williams’ layup. Guess what happened next? N.C. State committed a turnover. Jackson made another 3 on the other end.
And like that, in the span of 78 seconds, UNC’s lead grew from 33-12 to 43-12.
Two runs, and a combined 30-0 advantage for the Tar Heels, who led by 33 at halftime. And yet those two runs didn’t even include UNC’s most dominant of the game, which came during the final 10 minutes. Over a span of about 4½ minutes, the Tar Heels scored 22 consecutive points. The game was already over at the start of it, with UNC leading 77-48. By the end of it the lead was 99-48.
What happened: N.C. State missed eight consecutive attempts from the field and committed three turnovers. UNC made eight of its 13 attempts from the field, including all three of its 3-point attempts. And that’s how a dominant victory became a record-setting, 51-point victory.
During UNC’s three most powerful runs on Sunday, it outscored N.C. State a combined 52-0 over a span of about 11 minutes. During those 11 minutes, UNC made a combined 18 of its 28 attempts from the field, and seven of its 10 3-pointers. The Tar Heels were 9-for-11 from the free-throw line during that stretch. During the same time N.C. State was 0-for-17 from the field, with 10 turnovers.
How did UNC coach Roy Williams put it at one point on Sunday afternoon?
“It sort of started snowballing,” he said during his postgame news conference.
That it did, again and again.