CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – If there was any possibility the fifth-ranked Tar Heels had forgotten about last season’s 58-46 home loss to N.C. State, their head coach has been willing and able to provide a refresher of sorts leading up to Saturday’s noon tip.
“I make sure they remember the dadgum thing,” Roy Williams told reporters on Friday.
The Tar Heels, who did not practice on Wednesday, were met on the court Thursday with multiple reminders in the form of sharp jabs intended to send a message. According to senior guard Marcus Paige, his head coach’s comments “very straight forward and as a matter of fact, with a little sarcasm, too.”
That sarcastic tone, according to Paige, hurt a little more while running sprints in practice.
“He wasn’t even yelling, it was just like frustration,” Paige said. “You could tell it just bothered him to bring it up. We’re going to try to use that as fuel and not let that happen again.”
Paige expected the reminder to be reiterated four or five more times during Friday’s practice, although Williams suggested he had made his point and that it would not represent the complete content of his pregame message to the team.
“I don’t have to say anything,” Williams said. “I said, ‘Do you guys remember?’ and they said, ‘Yes,’ so I’ll leave it alone. They’d have to be brain dead. It was the fewest number of points by a North Carolina team in the Smith Center. If I have to remind them of that, we’re not very competitive.”
Not only were the 46 points the fewest by a UNC team, but the 18 first-half points matched the fewest in any half by UNC during the Williams era in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels shot 34.5 percent for the game, including 28 percent in the opening half.
By contrast, UNC’s poorest shooting half this season was 36.6 percent at Florida State and its fewest points in a half (26) and in a game (67) highlight the vast difference in offensive production between this year and last, especially during the months of January and February when Paige was plagued with injury.
“We’re aware of how we played last year and how we got outplayed in all aspects of the game,” Paige said. “But that was last year, and this year is another opportunity for us.”
The fact that these two rivals are trending in opposite directions – UNC sits atop the ACC standings while N.C. State is off to its worst start in league play since the 1996-97 season – offers no reprieve for a letdown.
“We have every reason to play just as hard as them,” Paige said. “They’re looking for their first ACC win and we want to stay on top of the league.”
That could be seen as lip service in certain other circumstances, but not against a program that’s cemented at the top of Williams’s rivalry list, as evidenced by his 28-3 overall record (23-3 at UNC) against the Wolfpack.
“If we can’t get enthused to play against North Carolina State, then I’ve got the wrong group of guys,” the 13th-year UNC head coach said.