North Carolina (29-4) and N.C. State (22-12) went back and forth for the bulk of the first half, but the Wolfpack scored five of the final six points to take a 34-31 lead into halftime.
N.C. State opened the second half with a 6-2 spurt to build a 40-33 margin. Trailing 43-36 with 17:09 to play, Harrison Barnes came alive after two-point effort in the first half and outscored the Wolfpack 9-3 over the next three minutes, spurring a 12-3 UNC run.
North Carolina increased its lead to 62-57 with 5:17 remaining, but N.C. State battled back to take a 67-66 lead with 1:08 to play. Alex Johnson's turnover with 43 seconds left set up Marshall's game-winner and Watts effectively ended the game by stealing Scott Wood's pass inside to Painter and heaving it the length of the floor, leaving the Wolfpack 94 feet to go in 1.2 seconds.
Tyler Zeller paced UNC with 23 points and nine rebounds. Harrison Barnes scored 16 points, including 14 after halftime. Kendall Marshall (10 points, 12 assists) became the first Tar Heel to post three straight double-doubles in which assists were included.
With John Henson sidelined with a left wrist injury, James Michael McAdoo (9 points) earned his first career, but was limited to 27 minutes due to foul trouble.
C.J. Leslie led N.C. State with 22 points before fouling out with 8:03 to play. Lorenzo Brown added 16 points and Richard Howell posted a double–double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
North Carolina shot 44.4 percent from the floor (24-of-54, 5-of-20 on 3s), while N.C. State connected on 44.8 percent of its field goal attempts (26-of-58, 3-of-11 on 3s). UNC outrebounded the Wolfpack, 34-33.
INSIDE THE GAME
John Henson told his teammates that he "might" play against N.C. State on Friday evening, but never made it out of the locker room for pregame warm-ups. The ACC's Defensive Player of the Year has presented N.C. State's height-deficient interior with a variety of problems during his career, so his absence played a significant role in the Wolfpack's effectiveness down low.
McAdoo earned his first career start in Henson's place after a strong showing on Friday against Maryland.
"James Michael is a fantastic player," Zeller told reporters during the postgame press conference. "It took a little getting used to in the beginning. Little things, mainly. Di?erent situations where I knew John would normally be there. But we just had to make a few adjustments, and after that, James Michael did a fantastic job of ?lling in."
McAdoo earned the assignment of defending Leslie, who had averaged 18.9 points and 11.0 rebounds over his last seven games. The Wolfpack sophomore took advantage and scored 19 points and saddled McAdoo with four fouls in the first 22:20 of play.
N.C. State also capitalized on Henson's absence by outrebounding UNC on the offensive glass (8-6) and posting a 17-8 edge in second-chance points. The Wolfpack outscored the Tar Heels, 36-34, in the paint.
But although Henson was wearing suit on the UNC bench, the ACC Player of the Year was still in uniform. Zeller scored 14 points in final 15:02 before fouling out with 1:08 left on the clock. More importantly, Zeller drew five fouls on Wolfpack players, including two each from Leslie and DeShawn painter.
The Final Minute
Give N.C. State plenty of credit for a solid season in head coach Mark Gottfried's first season, but the separation between these two programs – one a national title contender, the other a bubble team – was evident in the final minute of play.
After a Barnes free throw tied the score at 67 with 58 seconds to play, N.C. State called a full timeout six seconds later. Johnson started the Wolfpack's ensuing possession out front and attempted to pass to Brown on the left wing to start the play, but the throw was wide left and ended up going out of bounds.
UNC's possession consisted of Barnes trying to find room to work against C.J. Williams on the left side of the floor, but instead of forcing the issue, he passed the ball back out to Marshall, who worked the clock down before driving down the left side of the paint and pulling up for the game-winner over Brown. The Wolfpack sophomore guard hit the ground after contact in an attempt to draw a charge, but his efforts were not rewarded.
"I feel like in basketball in that situation, they're not going to call a ticky-tacky foul," Marshall said. "We just wanted to get something going toward the rim. And thankfully enough, I was able to get it up on the backboard and it went in."
N.C. State had 10 seconds left to tie or win the game, but Wood forced a pass inside to Painter that Watts was able to intercept. Despite falling out of bounds, the senior was smart enough to hurl the ball the length of the court instead of trying to find a teammate. Four seconds ticked away before the ball landed, leaving N.C. State with only 1.2 seconds.
Surviving the First Half
Somehow, some way, North Carolina only trailed N.C. State by three points at halftime.
The Wolfpack led UNC in the following categories: points in the paint (18-16), points off turnovers (7-2), second-chance points (9-6), fast break points (10-4), bench points (6-4), field goal percentage (46.9-42.9), steals (4-2) and turnovers (6-9).
To make matters worse, Marshall picked up his second foul with 4:50 to play, forcing Watts to play the remainder of the half as UNC's point guard. But the Tar Heels not only survived that final five minutes, they persevered by outscoring the Pack 11-9 during that stretch.
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