Backs Against The Wall

RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina presents a difficult challenge for NC State in tonight's game, as the Tar Heels are one of the hottest teams in the country.

The Tar Heels have won nine straight games and are coming off a 20-plus point win over Wake Forest where they knocked down 11-of-15 3-point attempts. Starting guards Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald hit 8-of-11 3-pointers in the win.

"McDonald has found his groove, Paige has really improved, McAdoo is at a high level," said NC State head coach Mark Gottfried. "Everybody on their team right now seems to be in a great groove."

That type of a shooting effort hasn't been the norm for North Carolina, who, like NC State, has struggled from behind the three-point line. However, they excel at cleaning the glass, as they lead the ACC in rebounding.

It's an area of concern for the Wolfpack.

"I think they are one of the best rebounding teams in the country," said Gottfried. "We have to do a great job of not letting them get second shots."

"We need to make sure we're always talking, boxing out, and hitting bodies," added freshman forward Kyle Washington. "We have to come ready to play, ready to play defense, but I have confidence in myself and in my teammates."

The most consistent player for North Carolina has been sophomore point guard Marcus Paige, the ACC's reigning Player of the Week. He has been instrumental in their recent success, and excels at making big shots late in games.

Paige is averaging a team-best 16.9 points and 4.6 assists per game.

NC State's own sophomore point guard, Tyler Lewis, is very familiar with tonight's opponent.

"He's a really good basketball player with a great basketball IQ," Lewis said of Paige. "He's able to score at a high level right now. He's shooting it very well. He can also create shots for other people which a lot of people might not see because he scores so well."

As for Gottfried, he has been stressing to his team the importance of tonight's game. The Wolfpack is likely on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament, but a win over a ranked team would certainly help the Pack's case.

"We talk about the tournament, not a lot, but we do," Gottfried stated. "Our guys want to play in it... I don't know if back in the fall anybody thought you'd put NC State and the NCAA tournament in the same sentence about right now, but here we are late February.

"An honest assessment, our backs are against the wall and we have a long way to go, but it's reachable."

North Carolina is a five-point favorite, and for NC State to pull off the upset they must play better than they did in the 14-point loss in Chapel Hill.

"The first game we had such a bad start and you have to credit their guys for it," said Gottfried. "We missed layups, foul shots, defensively we weren't very good. Just about everything went wrong. We need to have a great start."

Tonight's matchup is a huge rivalry game, a challenge that Gottfried wants his players to embrace.

"It's a good opportunity because they are coming into our building," he stated. "I remember last year it was a great atmosphere, a fun night. I told our guys that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else on the planet than right here with our team playing a really good North Carolina team.

"We have to play at our highest level. You won't do that every game, but you have to do it this game to have a chance."


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