UNC’s defense finally comes through but NC State provides another challenge

NC State's Abu on rivalry: 'Me personally, I just don't like anything blue honestly'

NC State's Abdul-Malik Abu talks about the game against UNC, the 'rivalry' and letting your game speak during a media availability Friday, Feb. 9, 2018.
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NC State's Abdul-Malik Abu talks about the game against UNC, the 'rivalry' and letting your game speak during a media availability Friday, Feb. 9, 2018.

Joel Berry has talked so much this season about what’s wrong with North Carolina’s defense, he was happy to finally have the chance to talk about what went right.

It’s also what the senior guard hopes will carry over from Thursday’s win over Duke for the Tar Heels (18-7, 7-5 ACC) in Saturday’s game at N.C. State (16-8, 6-5).

“What we need to take from this game is the defense,” Berry said.

UNC held Duke to 29 points in the second half and limited the Blue Devils to 36 percent shooting. It was only the fourth time in ACC play UNC had held an opponent to less than 30 points in a half.

Better yet, UNC prevented Duke, which had 30 points in the paint in the first half, from exploiting their size advantage in the second half.

The Devils ended up down double-digits and abandoning their inside game for 3-pointers. They were just 4 of 14 from the 3-point line in the second half.

“That’s what happens when you’re flying around and making them do something different,” said Berry.

UNC did have a different energy in the second half. It trailed 49-45 at the break but was quickly able to jump out to a 61-51 advantage, with Berry leading the way, in the second half and then fend off Duke.

North Carolina's Joel Berry II (2), right, defends N.C. State's Torin Dorn (2) during the first half of N.C. State's game against UNC at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill on Jan. 27, 2018. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

The problems UNC had in the first meeting with the Wolfpack, with big man Omer Yurtseven requiring their attention and leaving outside shooters open, weren’t all that different from the ones it faced in the first half against Duke.

The difference for UNC was it found a way to adjust. Duke had just eight points in the paint in the second half.

“Coach told us to play with our heart and our brain,” UNC wing Cam Johnson said. “I think at times in the first half we were playing hard but we didn’t quite use our brain fully.

“When we came out in the second half, we kind of put it all together, especially on the defensive end.”

Duke’s struggles from the 3-point line might be the biggest positive for UNC’s defense. Opponents have been lighting UNC up from outside.

In the first game against State, a 95-91 overtime loss for the Tar Heels, the Wolfpack scored more points, even in regulation (83), than any other team on UNC’s schedule. The Wolfpack made 15 3s with guard N.C. State guard Allerik Freeman going a perfect 7-for-7.

Clemson followed that up with another 15-for-30 performance against UNC’s defense. Holding Duke to nine 3s was progress and it also showed UNC could force a team out of its comfort zone.

That’s what UNC will have to do on Saturday to slow down Freeman, Yurtseven and guard Markell Johnson (who had 20 points and 11 assists).

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

No. 21 UNC at NC State

When: 2 p.m., Saturday

Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh

TV/radio: WRAZ, 106.1-WTKK, 101.5-WRAL

UNC (18-7, 7-5 ACC)

G Joel Berry 17.4 ppg, 3.3 apg

G Kenny Williams 11.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg

G Cam Johnson 13.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg

G Theo Pinson 8.6 ppg, 4.4 apg

F Luke Maye 18.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg

NC State (16-8, 6-5)

G Markell Johnson 8.5 ppg, 7.8 apg

G Braxton Beverly 10.0 ppg, 4.0 apg

G Torin Dorn 13.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg

F Abdul-Malik Abu 5.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg

F Omer Yurtseven 13.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg

Storylines: The Wolfpack has not swept UNC since Matt Doherty’s last season in 2002-03. ... Roy Williams has never lost the game (14-0) after the first Duke game of the season. ... Allerik Freeman went 7 of 7 from the 3-point line in State’s win in Chapel Hill on Jan. 27. He has gone 1 of 12 from the 3-point line in the two games since.

Joe Giglio

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