Gerry Broome - AP
For the first time since the last time the two teams met, Carolina won a basketball game. The Heels entered the contest on a 7 game losing streak, the second longest in the history of Carolina Basketball. The streak was snapped with a 85-79 home victory over the Wolfpack, who entered the game playing for the NCAA tournament lives. It wasn’t always pretty as Carolina left plenty of points at the foul line, and turned it over a ton, but they found a way to win. They even spotted State a 10-0 lead, and still this team continued to fight and play hard. Garrison Brooks has taken over the mantle as the NC State killer it appears. The junior big man from Alabama dropped a game best 30 points, and grabbed 9 rebounds. Brooks was 8-15 from the field, but most importantly he was 14-16 from the free throw line. State opted to put the 56% foul shooter on the line in the closing minutes, but Brooks made them pay every time. Coke Anthony scores 19 points, on a more efficient 7-12 shooting. Anthony appeared to be a floor general tonight, picking the right time to get his own offense, and finding his teammates shots. Christian Keeling continued his improved play, scoring 16 off the bench, on 7-9 shooting. Keeling also hailed down 7 rebounds, as the grad transfer has finally settled in to his for the Tar Heels. For the game, Carolina shot 49%, despite shooting just 19% from behind the arc. It was also just the fifth time this season, the Tar Heels eclipsed the 80 point mark.
In a season that won’t be remembered by many, Carolina can look back at another regular season sweep of the Wolfpack, as a lone bright spot. Markel Johnson scored 21 points for the visitors, but he didn’t get enough help from his teammates to propel the team to a road victory. At 17-11 it now puts more pressure on State to finish strong, to solidify their NCAA tournament standing.
The Tar Heels used a 21-4 spurt to erase a 7 point deficit, and take control of the game in the second half. Even with the lead blossoming to double digits, there was still a feeling of uneasiness in the arena due to all the blown leads this season. Carolina didn’t blow the lead this time. Here are the 3 reasons why they won for the first time this month:
Carolina Closed: When the lead eventually grew to double digits, it was the ninth time that UNC had a double digit lead in a ACC game. In the previous 8 games, they were 3-5, most recently losing at Notre Dame. At the under 4 media timeout, it was reported that State was “confident” Carolina would fold once again. Shame on them for thinking. Carolina handled the press, as good as they have all season. Coke Anthony made a contested jumper, and Brooks executed at the foul line to put the game away. It was refreshing seeing this team play with confidence as State pushed back late. Hopefully this will carry over into the next time the team finds itself in a close game.
Won the Rebound Battle: This was the biggest concern for the Wolfpack, and it was proven to be true. Carolina out-rebounded the Pack 38-30, including 13-7 on the offensive boards. The size once again proved to be too much, and it allowed Carolina to get consistent offense. With the team rebounds, and more importantly converts on second chance opportunities, they can play with any team in the ACC.
Christian Keeling’s Play Off the Bench: Keeling provided a lift off the bench, this team desperately needed. There hasn’t been much bench production this season, mainly due to all the injuries this team has endured. Keeling has been averaging over 12 points per game over the last 6 games, and that continued again tonight. He provided good energy on both ends of the floor, has earned the trust of not only his teammates, but the coaching staff too.
Up Next: Carolina hits the road once more, as they’ll travel to Syracuse, and battle with the Orange. Syracuse is a lot like State, as they too are playing for their tournament hopes. The game will tip off at 4 pm, with ESPN carrying the coverage.