Wednesday night was no exception.
N.C. State went on a crucial 14-4 run midway through the second half and defeated the Tar Heels, 77-59, before a capacity crowd of 21,750 fans, many of whom gave the Dean E. Smith Center a touch of red never before seen.
Carolina had just turned a 47-33 deficit moments after halftime into a 50-44 contest with 14:56 left to play on a follow dunk by Kris Lang. But the patient Wolfpack got a 3-pointer from Archie Miller, a free throw and runner from Anthony Grundy and a jump hook from Marcus Melvin to take a 58-44 lead with 12:05 left in the game.
"Our execution down the stretch needs to improve," said junior forward Will Johnson, who scored two points had no rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes of action. "There's no sense in pointing fingers but we just have to take care of the ball and execute our plays. If we execute our plays we get good shots and we didn't do that enough tonight. That was obviously a key stretch."
UNC narrowed the lead to 64-51 on a Brian Morrison 3-pointer with 6:32 left but got no closer.
"On their behalf they took care of the ball well, spread the floor well and got great drives and great shots," said UNC freshman Melvin Scott (no points and two assists in 17 minutes). "And on our behalf I think had we swung the ball more and got it inside more we would have been able to cut it. I just think we have to be more patient and choose better shot selection and know we need to get it into the big fella (Lang) so he can make easy baskets for us."
It also didn't help that NCSU had seven of its 10 steals in the final 20 minutes.
The loss was UNC's sixth at home this season, setting a single season record for the Tar Heels. It also dropped Carolina (5-11, 1-5 ACC) to six games under .500 for the first time in school history and ended a seven-game winning streak against their rivals.
"It's difficult, but there's nothing I can do about it now," said freshman Jawad Williams when asked about UNC's surprising season. "I'm happy (to be at UNC) with the situation I am in and I have to keep playing (hard)."
Lang led the Tar Heels by equaling a career high with 27 points. He also grabbed eight rebounds in an impressive effort to lead his younger mates. Williams, who had seven rebounds, was the only other Heel in double figures with 10 points. Morrison tallied eight points and six assists in 23 minutes.
"I thought Kris had a fabulous game," said UNC coach Matt Doherty. "We tried to ride him the whole 40 minutes and we did. … We are going to Kris, they know it and we know it. When he (got) jammed, I thought Kris did a good job of finding the open man. For as much as he handled the ball against that defense, to only have two turnovers is pretty good."
Carolina was without Jason Capel, its leader in scoring, rebounding and assists, for the third consecutive game with problems lingers from a concussion suffered last week. UNC was also missing freshman wing Jackie Manuel due to a stress fracture in his left foot.
State was paced by Grundy's 21 points and Miller's 20. The seniors also combined for seven assists and provided the leadership necessary to lift the young 'Pack to the important road victory. And the Wolfpack's fans responded with their appreciation, not just of State's leaders, but the team as a whole.
"We noticed our fans sprinkled through the arena, especially when our team was introduced," N.C. State coach Herb Sendek said. "They made sure to give a few Wolfpack hollers and it was good to see a few friendly faces, especially among all that blue tonight."
N.C. State improved to 15-4 overall and 5-2 in the ACC.
After Carolina opened up a quick 5-4 lead moments into the game, State went on a 15-4 run aided by UNC turnovers and missed opportunities on offense coupled with a defense that was step slow inside (three field goals in the paint) and on the perimeter (two 3s).
Lang answered the run with a conventional 3-point play which was followed by a pair of Morrison free throws and a Lang layup after a sweet dish by Morrison to cut the margin to 20-16 with 11:05 left in the half.
State, however, went on a 10-2 run and the teams essentially traded baskets over the final seven minutes and the Wolfpack led 42-30 at the intermission.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.