Kennedy Meeks scored 18 of his 23 points after halftime to help No. 5 North Carolina pull away from rival North Carolina State 67-55 on Saturday.
Joel Berry II added 14 points for the Tar Heels (16-2), who improved to 5-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time since the 2000-01 season. For the second straight year, the Tar Heels struggled to get out in transition or find their flow against the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill.
But unlike last year, the Tar Heels figured out how to pull away from the Wolfpack (10-8, 0-5), thanks primarily to the tough play of Meeks in the final 20 minutes.
It was Meeks' second game back after missing seven games due to a knee injury, but he came through with an 8-for-10 shooting performance after halftime and two second-half blocks while repeatedly diving on the floor for loose balls.
It was the kind of determined, grit-your-teeth play that coach Roy Williams has regularly pushed the 6-foot-10 Meeks to provide inside, and UNC certainly needed it on a day when top scorers Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige combined for nine points on 4-for-15 shooting.
Abdul-Malik Abu had 12 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Wolfpack, who controlled tempo and attacked the glass early to build some momentum and keep UNC off stride. But with the teams tied at halftime, the Tar Heels pushed ahead with a 16-4 second-half run that featured Meeks scoring over long-armed BeeJay Anya inside — the kind of shots Anya erased in last year's 58-46 win by the Wolfpack.
Anthony "Cat" Barber, the ACC's leading scorer at 22.5 points per game, had a rough outing. He finished with a season-low nine points and didn't score in the second half, finishing with more turnovers (5) than made field goals (4) or free throws (1).
N.C. State is off to its worst start in ACC play since going 0-8 in 1996-97 under former coach Herb Sendek.
N.C. State: Maverick Rowan and Cody Martin both added 10 points. ... N.C. State shot 40 percent. ... The Wolfpack had 18 turnovers.
UNC: Isaiah Hicks had 10 points off the bench. ... UNC shot just 38 percent for the game, including 5 for 20 from 3-point range. ... The Tar Heels scored 17 points off turnovers.
N.C. State travels to No. 20 Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
UNC hosts Wake Forest on Wednesday.