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N.C. State (14-13, 4-9 ACC) jumped out to a 19-9 lead, but North Carolina (21-6, 11-2 ACC) closed out the first half on a 22-10 run to take a 31-29 advantage into the locker room. UNC scored 15 of the second-half's first 23 points to build a nine-point cushion before the Wolfpack answered with a 13-4 spurt to knot the game at 50.
The Tar Heels issued a 7-0 run to work its lead back out to eight points and then Barnes delivered back-to-back highlight reel jams off offensive rebounds to increase UNC's lead to 64-56 with 3:40 remaining. N.C. State would get no closer than five points the rest of the way.
Barnes led North Carolina with 16 points, while John Henson posted eight points, 15 rebounds and six blocks. Kendall Marshall added 14 points, five assists and five turnovers. C.J. Leslie paced the Wolfpack with 13 points and eight rebounds, and Tracy Smith added 12 points and seven rebounds.
North Carolina shot 42.4 percent (28-of-66, 5-of-15 on 3-pointers) from the floor, while holding N.C. State to 43.1 percent (28-of-65, 3-of-14 on 3-pointers). UNC made more 3-pointers (5) than its opponent for just the third time in ACC play and accomplished that feat for the second time against the Wolfpack.
INSIDE THE GAME
An Offensive Spark – Finally
North Carolina converted four of its first 16 field goal attempts on one assist in the first nine minutes on Wednesday night. In other words, it looked like just another day at the office for a Tar Heel squad that has struggled mightily with its shooting in recent weeks.
But the lids finally cracked on the rims after halftime as UNC turned in its best shooting half – 48.5 percent on 16-of-33 field goal attempts – in five games.
Leading the effort was Barnes, who knocked down a jumper on North Carolina's first possession in the second half and later delivered a pair of rim-rattling dunks that fueled his squad to its 14th victory in 16 games. The freshman scored 14 of his 16 points and grabbed six rebounds over the final 20 minutes.
"I didn't like Harrison's 0-for-6 in the first half, but he was 6-for-11 in the second half," UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters after the game. "He's got a tremendous amount of confidence… I thought he was very assertive in the second half."
Barnes has become notorious for elevating his play during crunch time, but even he can't answer why his shot comes easier when the tension rises.
"If I knew, I definitely would make that into a consistent game," Barnes said. "I don't know – it's just a piece of mind. You either make or miss at that time in the game, so you just have to shoot it."
While Wanda Williams's newspaper incident with the N.C. State students standing behind her set the Twitter world afire roughly 10 minutes into Wednesday's contest, there was no shortage of rivalry conflict on the hardwood, either.
Barnes and N.C. State forward Scott Wood were chatty throughout the evening, Marshall and Wolfpack counterpart Ryan Harrow attempted to outduel each other at point guard and even Javy Gonzalez welcomed Justin Knox into the rivalry with a forearm to the back during a dead ball.
North Carolina may currently own this rivalry, but make no mistake about it – this is still a rivalry.
"They wanted to compete and they weren't shy about letting us know that, so we were right there with them," Barnes said.
As usual, leave it to the team elders to play the parent role and make sure things didn't get too far out of hand.
"I didn't really get involved," Zeller said. "It was one of those things where I saw it going on and I was just trying to keep everybody from getting any technicals or anything that would hurt us in the end."
Shared experiences are the key to building team chemistry and confidence in each other, and learning to harness emotions during intense rivalry contests is just another brick in the wall.
The Return of the Guard
If there has been one position that has been heavily criticized at North Carolina in recent weeks, it's the shooting guard spot. And rightfully so – over the past four games, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald have combined to average 8.8 points on 24.3 percent shooting (9-of-37).
Strickland has struggled mightily in his starting role during that stretch, scoring two points or less and failing to convert a field goal in three of those games.
But with the Tar Heels trailing 11-4 early after missing eight of their first 10 shots, McDonald and Strickland shook off the rust and scored 14 of UNC's next 22 points. McDonald drained a 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper on back-to-back possessions, and then after the Wolfpack scored five straight points to increase their lead to 19-9, Strickland ignited an 8-0 UNC run with back-to-back transition lay-ups.
Add in Marshall's seven points and UNC's backcourt total of 21 points in the opening 20 minutes represented the most points scored in a game by that trio since a 23-point effort against Duke on Feb. 9.
Strickland finished with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, which stands as his second-highest point total in ACC play (15 vs. FSU).
"It was important for us because I felt like if I got going that would lead to a better chance of us winning, and it did," Strickland said. "I've just got to have that focus every night and we'll be all right."
Winning the Boards
N.C. State announced on Tuesday morning that reserve forward Richard Howell would sit out the UNC game after suffering a concussion against Maryland on Sunday. The sophomore's 7.7 points per game were undoubtedly missed against the Tar Heels, but his absence was felt more on the glass.
In N.C. State's four ACC wins, it has posted a plus-9.8 rebounding advantage, but in its first eight losses, that statistic plummeted to a minus-6.5 deficit. Howell serves a critical role in the Pack's rebounding success by pulling down 6.5 boards per game – good for second on the team – so it was critical for Smith, Leslie and Jordan Vandenberg to pick up the slack.
The Wolfpack were already facing an uphill battle in the rebounding category. North Carolina entered the game as the ACC leader in rebounding margin (plus-5.8), while N.C. State ranked eighth with a minus-1.1 mark. In the first meeting between these programs on Jan. 29, the Tar Heels handed the Wolfpack its largest rebounding deficit of the season with a 53-39 advantage.
North Carolina has been just as effective on the glass over the past week, outrebounding Wake Forest by 15 and Boston College by 14. Henson has been the driving force with five straight double-digit rebounding performances, and the lanky sophomore continued that dominance on Wednesday with 15 rebounds.
The Tar Heels owned a 29-26 rebounding advantage midway through the second half, but the Wolfpack missed nine of 12 field goal attempts during a critical late stretch and UNC was ultimately able to pull away with a 47-33 margin on the glass.
"It was very big for us because we knew that when we won the first game, we outrebounded them, so we wanted to do that again in this game," Barnes said.