NC State competed well Tuesday night in the RBC Center, but couldn't overcome North Carolina's hot three-point shooting and career night by point guard Kendall Marshall in an 86-74 loss. Let's take a look back at the highlights and low-lights from the game.
Coming into the game, a lot of the discussion centered on whether State could alter its approach in the post and have some success against North Carolina's imposing front line. Most assumed that wouldn't happen, but the Pack -- led by C.J. Leslie's 24 points and 12 rebounds -- were more patient and used face up post moves and quickness against the Carolina's length.
Leslie, Richard Howell and DeShawn Painter combined to score 40 points and pull down 28 of the Pack's 40 rebounds. The 42-22 edge in points the paint was the most glaring -- and surprising -- stat line on NC State's half of the box score.
In the first meeting of the season between State and Carolina, the Wolfpack turned the ball over 17 times in a 74-55 loss that was never really close. On Tuesday night, NC State finished with just four turnovers, a season best mark.
The Wolfpack were more patient offensively in half court sets, trying to work to second and third options while getting the ball inside, and they did it without turning the ball over.
And while there weren't many chances for transition buckets -- State tallied just 10 -- the Pack were efficient and decisive with the ball in those situations.
Any time an opponent hits 10 three-pointers, especially when it averages less than five a game, folks will raise an eyebrow and wonder what happened to State's perimeter defense. Tuesday's poor perimeter performance, however, was somewhat two-fold because of the way State decided to play defense in the first place.
Mark Gottfried and his staff decided to use guards and wings to double down on John Henson and Tyler Zeller, essentially daring the Tar Heels to beat them with the three-point shot. Kendall Marshall, Reggie Bullock and Harrison Barnes did just that.
More than half of North Carolina's made three-point baskets came when those players were open and had ample time to set their feet. Given enough time and space, even the most average of outside shooters is going to hit higher than his season average.
Despite that, NC State still has to do a better job rotating on defense and trying to make shots tougher. That was especially true when the Pack went to zone defense. There were way too many open looks, and the Tar Heels took advantage.
Putting Together 40 Minutes
Whether it's because of a short bench or the fact that State is still shaking off old habits, the Pack has consistently had issues playing a solid 40 minutes of basketball.
On Tuesday, thanks to a sluggish start to the second half, it was once again State's undoing. UNC's five-point halftime lead ballooned to 10 within the first two and a half minutes of the half, forcing a timeout and, in some ways, ending the game. NC State never got closer than eight the rest of the game.
Mark Gottfried was quick to point out the continuing trend in the post game, mentioning the Syracuse, Indiana and Stanford games by name. It was also an issue in losses to Virginia and Virginia.
"The first half we had some really good moments, but when you look at some of the games like our Syracuse game or the Indiana game, we've got spurts, we just don't sustain it long enough," Gottfried said. "We have a hard time with that."
STAT OF THE GAME
There were plenty of positive stats in NC State's portion of the box score, most notably its 42-22 edge in points in the paint and 16-8 advantage in second-chance points.
But the stat of the game was North Carolina's 10-of-19 (56.5%) effort from behind the arc. It wasn't a season-high -- Carolina made 11 on two occasions earlier in the year -- but it was more than enough to push the Heels over the top Tuesday.
Kendall Marshall (22 points, 13 assists) led the way with four three-pointers on five attempts.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Without question, C.J. Leslie was the best player on the floor for NC State in Tuesday's game. He was active defensively and used his quickness on the offensive end to score 24 points in 29 minutes. He also pulled down 12 rebounds, tallying his fourth double-double of the season.
Despite being in foul trouble for much of the second half and fouling out with just more than a minute left, Leslie was efficient on both ends of the floor and gave the Pack a big boost against Tyler Zeller and John Henson, two players that have given Leslie fits in his previous games against the Tar Heels.
Mark Gottfried on NC State's effort:
"Our guys competed hard. The first half we had some really good moments, but when you look at some of the games like our Syracuse game or the Indiana game, we've got spurts, we just don't sustain it long enough. We have a hard time with that. They were very good tonight, so you have to tip your hat to them for that."
NC State has three days to rest and prepare before traveling to South Carolina for a key battle with Clemson, a team that's won three of its last four games. Saturday's matchup with the Tigers is the first of three games -- two of which are on the road -- that the Pack has to win if they hope to make the NCAA Tournament.
Saturday's game tips at 2:30 p.m. on the ACC Network.