RALEIGH, N.C. – No. 10 North Carolina had one goal in mind when they entered PNC Arena on Wednesday night: attack the paint early, and attack it often.
That plan prevailed as the Tar Heels outscored N.C. State, 60-22, in the paint on the way to a 97-73 win to complete the season sweep.
UNC had a distinct advantage in the post from the tip as NCSU opted for a smaller lineup, starting 6-foot-6 wing Torin Dorn in place of 7-footer Omer Yurtseven. That left 6-foot-8 forward Malik Abu guarding Kennedy Meeks, who proceeded to score 10 points in the first 15 minutes of play. The senior forward finished his final game in Raleigh with 17 points and eight boards.
“That’s what we wanted to do,” Meeks told reporters after the game. “We wanted to come out at the beginning of the game and hit them early. I think we did a great job of that.”
That early onslaught down low helped Roy Williams’s team build a 17-point first half lead. N.C. State guard Dennis Smith attempted to single-handedly lead his team back, scoring 11 consecutive points at one point, but the Tar Heels kept feeding the post and never allowed the Wolfpack to get any closer than six points.
“I feel like they were tired from the jump,” freshman forward Tony Bradley said. “Defensively we got on them; offensively we scored buckets. That was a key. We ran them out of the gym.They were tired.”
Bradley, along with sophomore Luke Maye, were called on more than usual on Wednesday due to early foul trouble from Isaiah Hicks. The senior forward earned his fourth foul early in the second half and only clocked seven total minutes.
This was the second game in a row Bradley and Maye were needed more than normal, with Hicks missing last week's loss at Duke due to a hamstring injury.
“We struggled against Duke rebounding and getting points in the paint,” Maye said. “Coaches preached all week at practice to get it inside and rebound. That’s what we tried to do tonight. I think we dominated on most of the inside parts.”
The differences from last week were palpable, as Maye scored a career-high 13 points, while Bradley added eight points and five rebounds.
“We were pretty confident, they just had to find the confidence in themselves since they’re young,” Hicks said. “Now I think they’ve kind of got it figured out. Especially Luke, stepping in a big role early…. Just to see him out there being comfortable is really good because depth is the important thing for our team in the long run.”
Maye topped off his career night with the most memorable play of the game. With 15:11 left in the second half, the 6-foot-8 forward drove and delivered a slam dunk that silenced PNC Arena.
UNC dominated the glass as well, outrebounding N.C. State 41-25 (18-9 OR) and outscoring its opponent 27-13 in second-chance points.
In two meetings this year, the Tar Heels have outscored the Wolfpack, 104-42, in the paint.