The Tar Heels headed back on the road after a five-day layoff on Saturday as they looked to sweep the rival NC State Wolfpack and continue their spot in the NCAA Tournament field. Just like in the first game, they raced out to a quick start and never looked back in an 84-74 win that sent them to 21-8 (13-5) on the season and all but secured a double-bye in the ACC Tournament.
One of the keys for the team entering the game was to bring similar energy to the game that they did in the first meeting this season in the Smith Center and they did just that. The Tar Heels raced out to a 20-3 lead to start the game, hitting eight of their first ten shots and holding the Wolfpack to just one of their first seven from the field, and forcing three turnovers during that same stretch. The Tar Heels would grow their lead to as much as 19 in the first half, but the Wolfpack made a push to cut the lead to nine shortly after the under 4:00 timeout. The Tar Heels would make a push of their own, though, shortly after that, extending the lead back to 17 at the half.
The second half started with a 6-0 NC State run, but the Tar Heels would settle in, and from then on they never let the game get closer than a 13-point margin outside of the final seconds. The Tar Heels led by as much as 25 and any time that the Wolfpack made a push, they were able to push back. NC State would close the game on a 9-0 run, but the Tar Heels would still hang on for a double-digit win.
The Tar Heel offense had another strong showing against the Wolfpack, this time with the focus being inside. They scored 44 points in the paint in this one, their most since the game against Florida State a couple of weeks ago, and tied for their third-most this season with the game against Furman. The team was 19-29 on layups and dunks in this one, something that has been a problem at times for this team this season. The Tar Heels were a menace on the offensive glass, ripping down 13 offensive rebounds and turning that into 12 second-chance points.
Defensively, the Tar Heels were outstanding out of the gate, holding NC State to just 8-31 shooting in the first half and forcing five turnovers, including three in the first eight minutes that allowed the Tar Heels to establish the early margin. They pounded the defensive glass early, as well, ripping down 19 defensive rebounds in the first half, including eight by Armando Bacot. The rim protection was strong all afternoon, as the Wolfpack were just 11-26 on layups and the Tar Heels blocked five shots on the day, all five of which were credited to Bacot. Hubert Davis has asked this defense to step up here late in the season and outside of the two losses they have done that.
Leaky Black: The senior defensive stopper hyper-extended his knee in the final minutes of the first half, and didn’t return in the second half. Consequently, after leaving the game with the injury, State scored two baskets at the rim, as Carolina couldn’t stay in front of the basketball. They were able to make adjustments without Black in the second half, in the blowout win. His status for tomorrow’s game against Syracuse is unknown at this time.
Armando Bacot: Bacot recorded his 22nd double-double yesterday, one shy of tying the program record set by Brice Johnson, back during the 2015-16 run to the national championship game. He scored 28 points on 11-13 shooting, as the Pack never had an answer for him from the onset.
Bench: With Leaky Black sidelined in the second half, that meant extended minutes for the bench, particularly Puff Johnson, who played 29 minutes, and scored a career-high 16 points on 4-9 shooting while making 6-7 free throws. For a player that has battled injuries for most of his career, you saw a glimpse of the player he can be moving forward in his UNC career.
NC State Domination: Roy Williams may no longer be the head coach, but that didn’t stop UNC from sweeping their “rivals” and leading for 79:06, of the 80 minutes between the two games.
Up Next: Carolina is back in action tomorrow night against Syracuse in the home finale, which means it will be Senior Night in the Smith Center. The game will start at 7 PM, on ESPN