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Heel Tough Blog: NC State Preview

Field Level Media

After escaping with a win over Miami on Monday, the Tar Heels are back in action later today, as they host rival NC State, looking to get one step closer to an ACC regular season title. R.J. Davis put Carolina on his back, and in the process, set a Smith Center record, with a 42-point performance, that effectively earned him ACC Player of the Year honors. After a rash of road games, Carolina is in the midst of three straight home games, with this being the second game of the homestand. 

NC State has experienced an up and down season, and they find themselves at 17-11, and they are 9-8 in the ACC. The Wolfpack are coming off a road loss at Florida State earlier in the week, making it harder for them to put themselves in the conversation to make the NCAA Tournament. They are led by D.J. Horne, who might be the best guard in the country that nobody knows about, as he averages 17.5 points per game while shooting 44% from the field, and 43% from behind the arc. While D.J. Burns still averages double-figures scoring, his role has lessened as the season has moved along, with Ben Middlebrooks and Mohamed Diarra, emerging in the frontcourt. State has been playing much bigger in the second half of the season, and will pose a challenge with Carolina on the glass. 

This is the second matchup of the season with the Wolfpack, with Carolina winning the first contest, 67-54 in Raleigh. Harrison Ingram had 19 rebounds in that game and R.J Davis paved the way with 16 points, to help Carolina get a big win between two 3-0 teams in the ACC at the time. 

After his historic performance on Monday, all eyes will be on R.J. Davis to see how he follows up that performance. His 42-point outburst raised his scoring average to 21.7 points per game, which is the sixth-highest clip in the country. Another big game, could not only wrap up ACC Player of the Year honors but could get back in the running for the Naismith Award. 

Carolina may have won on Monday night, but that didn’t that Hubert Davis was happy about the way they won, and made it known in the postgame, that he was ready to get to practice, so they could try and get better. While Hubert Davis stressed that the film session on Wednesday was positive, he’s eager to see his team play better, as it is March, and it’s time to start playing the best basketball of the season. Here’s how they take a step toward playing championship level basketball: 

  1. Contain D.J. Horne: Horne was 2-16 from the field against Carolina back in January, but since this, has been as good a guard in the ACC, not named R.J. Davis or Hunter Sallis. Horne had a stretch of games where he averaged over 26 points per game, meaning he can score it as good as anybody in the country, Horne is a Raleigh product, who started his career at Arizona State, before transferring back home for his last season at the college level. Carolina struggled to contain Bensley Joseph on Monday, as he scored 21 points, and got plenty of clean looks from behind the arc. Carolina needs to make sure they don’t allow Horne to get comfortable on the offensive end of the floor because he’s more than capable of willing State to an upset win in Chapel Hill. 

  2. Limit Turnovers: The Tar Heels turned it over 12 times on Monday night, leading to 21 points for Miami, and was a big reason why they almost got beat by an inferior opponent. Kevin Keatts is going to deploy many different looks defensively, including a full-court press, half-court trap, and more. Turnovers at home haven’t been an issue for the majority of the season, but after Monday night, it’s something to be concerned about, especially going up against a team that wants to cause chaos defensively. After Carolina struggled mightily against the press the other night, they can expect teams to press them more often, starting in this game. They need to make sure that the ball is getting inbounded to either Cadeau or Davis, not Ingram, who seems indecisive when being asked to bring the ball up the floor. Carolina needs to limit their turnovers, and not give State easy buckets in transition, to give them a winning formula on the road. 

  3. Rebounding: On paper Carolina has a decided rebounding advantage over NC State, and that needs to translate onto the court. The Heels have outrebounded sixteen straight opponents, but they haven’t been dominating teams like they were earlier in the season. With the emergence of Middlebrooks and Diarra, State is more formidable on the boards, making up for the ineffectiveness of D.J. Burns in that category. Harrison Ingram had 19 rebounds in the first matchup between these two, as he was emerging as a force on the backboards for this team. We know that Armando Bacot takes the rivalry games seriously, and he always puts his best foot forward against the Wolfpack. After a lackluster game on Monday, you shouldn’t rule out a big game from Bacot, on the glass this afternoon. 

Series History:

  • Carolina is 165-80 all-time against NC State, including being 81-23 in Chapel Hill, and 30-7 in the Smith Center. The 165 wins are tied for the most against a single opponent, with Carolina also having beaten Wake Forest 165 times. 


  • North Carolina - 9th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 117.2 (25th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 93.2 (7th) 

  • NC State - 75th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 112.4 (79th) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 101.5 (84th) 


  • North Carolina - 9th. 

  • NC State - 80th. 

TV Info:

  • Today’s game will tip at 4 PM, on ESPN. 

The Four Corners Podcast:


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