"The thing is the response," Sidney Lowe said. "It's not whether you get knocked down its whether you get up and right now we are just not getting up."
Instead of getting back up the Pack continued to fall apart. A three-point halftime deficit ballooned into an 18-point hole as the Tar Heels scored on 11 of its first 12 possessions to start the half. The defense was abysmal and the offense was dysfunctional, and by the time the Pack righted the ship it was too far in behind to mount a comeback. When the final buzzer sounded, the Heels walked off the RBC Center court on Wednesday night with an 84-70 win.
"We've had that happen before, in previous games as you know," Lowe said. "I'm not quite sure why that happened again."
Junior Tyler Hansbrough had a monster game for the Tar Heels, scoring 32 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. The Pack tried guarding him straight up, tried sending help on the post and tried sending him to the foul line. None of it worked.
"He had 32 points, you can't win like that," Grant said. "That's like the third straight game we've let someone get 30 points."
Grant led the Pack with 17 points, while freshman J.J. Hickson added 13 points and seven rebounds. Courtney Fells was the only other player in double figures, with 10 points. The loss puts the Pack even further in the hole in the ACC standings, now needing to win out just to get back to .500 in league play.
"We gotta finish 8-8, that's what we have to do right now," Ben McCauley said. "And then hopefully make a good showing in the ACC tournament."
State came out with a sense of urgency in the first half, out-hustling the Tar Heels and going toe-to-toe with Carolina's big men on defense. By denying the post players, the Pack forced the Heels into taking jumpers and kept them from dominating the offensive glass. When Grant lobbed a alley-oop pass to Fells, who brought it down with one hand for a monster dunk, the Pack had a six-point lead and a building full of screaming fans on its side.
The Pack held a 31-25 lead with five minutes remaining in the first half, then things started to unravel. The Heels began feeding Hansbrough in the paint, helping to a fuel a 9-0 run for the visitors to end the half – capped by a Wayne Ellington 3-pointer in the final seconds. The Pack, which had 10 first-half turnovers, coughed the ball up on four of its last six possessions to help the Heels take a 34-31 point to the locker room.
But the break did nothing to halt the momentum of the Heels, who picked up right where they left off with a barrage of points against a disjointed Wolfpack squad. Lazy passes and even lazier defense silenced the Pack offense and allowed the Tar Heels to score at will. Carolina scored on 11 of its first 12 possessions of the half while the Pack managed just four points over the same time span. In the blink of an eye, the Heels had built an insurmountable 18-point lead.
"In the second half they came out and turned it up again and we didn't respond," Lowe said. "Our defense wasn't there like it was in the first half."
The Pack hung around the rest of the game, but never put enough momentum together to make any sort of real comeback. Even when Carolina missed shots, the Pack allowed the Heels to get second and third opportunities with offensive rebounds. In one series, the Heels got six points out of one possession thanks to rebounds off of missed free-throws. State finished the game on a 8-2 run to make the final margin 14 points.
"At times we look like a very good team," Grant said. "But at times we just have mental lapses and we do things that we aren't supposed to do. It's ashame that coach gets the blame for this because he tells us the things to do and we just aren't doing the right things."