RALEIGH – For the North Carolina State Wolfpack, this was the sweetest form of redemption. For the North Carolina Tar Heels, it was the harshest form of payback.
Trailing 68-66 with 8:35 left in the contest, the Wolfpack went on an impressive 32-8 run to close out the game and send UNC home with a 98-76 defeat before a wild sellout crowd of 19,722 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena.
The win gives State just its second regular season sweep of its bitter rival since 1974 and likely puts the Wolfpack (20-8, 9-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. It also means that unless the Tar Heels defeat both Clemson and Duke in their final two regular season games, they will lose 20 games for the first time ever.
The Tar Heels owned a 10-point halftime lead but it lasted less than three minutes as the 'Pack exploded out of the gate, tying the score at 48 on a Marcus Melvin 3-pointer. State took a 51-48 lead on a 3 from senior Archie Miller, and by the first media timeout of the half – at 15:38 – the 'Pack had gone on a 20-5 run and had UNC on the ropes.
"That was tough," said UNC point guard Adam Boone. "They came out and hit their shots. They forced some turnovers and converted."
The Tar Heels, however, weren't ready to wilt just yet.
Trailing 64-57, Jawad Williams nailed a turnaround jumper. Kris Lang (19 points, seven rebounds) dropped in a layup and Jason Capel followed a Lang miss to cut the margin to 64-63 with 10:41 left. After an Anthony Grundy layup, Lang's conventional three-point play tied the score at 66 and his leaning three-footer gave Carolina its last lead with 8:35 left to play.
"We got shots. We were efficient getting the ball inside to Kris for his shots," Capel said. "I think they turned up the pressure. But we have to do a better job of recognizing traps and stuff but for the most part we got the shots we wanted."
A pair of freebies from Grundy were followed by a layup by Julius Hodge, drawing Boone's fourth foul. Hodge sank the free throw but UNC's Brian Morrison (10 points, two assists) answered with a 3 to tie the game at 71. But that was it for Carolina.
State's next five points came from the charity stripe as the foul-prone Tar Heels (29 for the game) were beginning to run out of players.
Jackie Manuel (zero points, one rebound in 16 minutes) fouled at with 6:57 left and Melvin Scott (five points, no assists in 21 minutes) was disqualified with 3:52 to play. The ensuing free throws put the 'Pack up 85-73 and Carolina was essentially done.
State closed the game with a 13-3 run – 32-8 over the final 8:35 – handing UNC its seventh 20-plus point loss of this historically bad season.
"We didn't take care of the ball towards the end," Lang said. "We started rushing things. We weren't being patient. Plain and simple we weren't hitting any shots. I wasn't hitting shots in the second half but I would take those same shots again. They rely on me on the inside and I'd take those shots again."
The Tar Heels dropped to 7-18 overall and 3-11 in the ACC. Capel and Boone each tallied 17 points.
"It's tough but we have to continue to stay strong," Boone said. "The season isn't over yet, we can still improve and accomplish something."
Grundy led N.C. State with 28 points in his last home game. Miller and Melvin pumped in 18 apiece and Evtimov chipped in 10.
Carolina opened the game with an aggressive approach. The Heels attacked on offense and challenged every pass on defense.
"We wanted to be aggressive on both ends of the floor," Boone said. "We wanted to have an aggressive nature about our game today and we definitely accomplished that in the first half today."
A Capel 3, steal and layup by Scott and a pair of Lang baskets gave UNC a quick 9-2 lead and served notice they weren't going to be the pushover many expected.
UNC maintained a lead ranging from two to five points until the Wolfpack caught them at 25 on a layup by Hodge with 6:43 left in the first half.
Boone nailed a 3-pointer starting a personal nine-point run and a few minutes later the Heels opened up a 39-30 lead after a Brian Morrison 3-pointer with 3:48 left.
"We were passing and screening," Lang said. "It sounds simple but that's what gets you open and that's what makes things happen, when you're open."
A pair of Boone free throws and a Lang freebie gave UNC its largest lead of the half at 42-30 with 1:46 left before intermission. UNC led at the half 46-36.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is 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.