It was a tale of two teams in PNC Arena Wednesday. Both played their respective parts.
NC State continued its descent while North Carolina maintained its advantage in conference play as the Tar Heels comfortably defeated the Wolfpack, 97-73. UNC never trailed, was never seriously threatened and comprehensively dominated State in the paint to the tune of a 60-22 advantage.
In an attempt to shake things up, NC State head coach Mark Gottfried elected to start a smaller lineup Wednesday. While it perhaps had an impact in causing Isaiah Hicks to spend most of the game in foul trouble, the Tar Heels have entirely too many weapons to break down over the loss of one player -- particularly inside.
"Just a change to see if it would give us a spark," Gottfried said of the move. "It's difficult because they are big and we weren't sure if Hicks would play or how well he'd play with the groin injury. That makes it a little tougher, but I thought Torin had played really well the last couple of games and deserved to play and start.
"[Hicks] had a couple of baskets early because we were small. We were hoping to take advantage of that by taking Hicks away from the basket and try to get some things, Torin penetrating and getting him off the dribble."
What happened Wednesday evening was not a phenomenon. Over the years, North Carolina has typically been a terrific rebounding team. The Tar Heels often hit the glass well enough that when they do struggle from the floor the best offense can be to simply throw the ball to the basket knowing that the inevitable offensive rebound will create a better shot.
North Carolina did not need offensive rebounds to beat NC State but got them anyway. The Tar Heels shot 56 percent (42-for-75) from the floor yet hauled in more boards on the Wolfpack’s end (18 offensive rebounds) than State could (16 defensive rebounds).
The frontcourt quartet of Abdul-Malik Abu, BeeJay Anya, Ted Kapita and Omer Yurtseven was essentially useless, combining for three defensive rebounds in 65 minutes. Point guard Dennis Smith Jr. had four defensive rebounds by himself.
It did not matter if Gottfried had used a smaller or bigger lineup. UNC ultimately was going to have its way inside regardless. The Tar Heels took 23 more shot attempts than NC State en route to an easy win.
The Wolfpack’s angst will continue. There is no way to run from what is coming as the sixth straight loss for NC State will mean more uncertainty around the program. After the game Gottfried respectfully declined to talk about his current plight and chose to focus on his attempt to steer his team out of its current slump.
“I don't want to talk about that,” Gottfried said. “I respect you guys. It's a fair question--good question--but I want to talk about the game and those kind of things. That's not something I want to answer. I hope you understand.
“Everything that happens is my responsibility. That’s part of the turf as a head coach. Just like if you beat Villanova in the NCAA Tournament or go to the Sweet 16, you get a lot of praise a lot of times as a coach, other times you take the hits. That’s part of what we do.”
The Pack now has only a minimum of five games remaining. The amount of time left to avoid the issue is dwindling. Speculation will continue to carry as much weight as what lies ahead.
NC State basketball faces a three-week period of incertitude followed by a potential transition.