RALEIGH, N.C. – Immediately after Cat Barber knocked down a 3-pointer to give N.C. State a 23-10 lead early in the first half, a Wolfpack fan seated behind press row yelled, “It’s going to be a long night, Carolina!”
Eight minutes later, after Justin Jackson’s layup pushed UNC’s lead to 34-29, that same fan, his fire replaced by exasperation, encouraged his team, saying, “You’ve got to play harder than that, guys!”
Mark Gottfried couldn’t have scripted a better start for N.C. State. His fifth squad in Raleigh built that 13-point lead on 10-of-17 shooting, paced by Barber’s 16 points in the opening eight minutes.
“We knew they would come out extremely strong and confident because they were playing us,” sophomore wing Justin Jackson said after the 80-68 victory.
Marcus Paige noticed a few looks of concern from his teammates, prompting an early pep talk by the senior leader: “We’re fine. We’ve just got to play. They’re not going to shoot 97 percent the rest of the game. We’ve just got to settle in and do what we do.”
The Tar Heels found their offensive rhythm, thanks to 14 first-half points by Jackson and 22 points by Brice Johnson, and locked down defensively, holding the Wolfpack to 29.2 percent shooting (14-of-48) over the final 32 minutes.
“I was really proud of our team, the way we withstood that first seven or eight or nine minutes,” Roy Williams said. “I don’t very often look at the clock, so I can’t tell you exactly what it was, but I knew they were kicking our tails, and the crowd was going crazy, and they were making shots, but I was pleased with the way we just kept playing. It showed a veteran club out there, we didn’t go crazy or do anything.”
UNC used a 28-6 run to take a 38-29 lead with 2:40 to play before halftime. When N.C. State whittled its deficit to 52-48 with 13:41 to play, the Tar Heels responded with a 9-0 spurt to build a double-digit advantage they would not relinquish.
“That’s good basketball for us,” Paige said. “Justin had it going, Brice had it going, we stopped giving them second-chance opportunities and our defense really settled in and held them under 40 percent from the field, so that’s a complete game from Carolina.”
Barber’s offensive display to open the game came complete with a variety of contested looks, including a step-back 3-pointer from the left wing. The junior point guard connected on seven of his first nine field goal attempts in scoring 16 of N.C. State’s first 23 points.
“We were okay with the types of shots he was getting, if you eliminate the ones in transition,” Paige said. “Once we got back and set our defense and made him shoot every shot over a hand, over the course of the game he’s going to miss more. And then he got some lay-ups late and got up to 32.”
Barber (six rebounds, four turnovers) misfired on 12 of his final 17 field goal attempts while being guarded by four different Tar Heels throughout the evening.
UNC placed four players in double figures and shot 51.7 percent in the second half and 47.1 percent on the game.