Felton, Heels fall to State, 86-77

RALEIGH - Raymond Felton's best just wasn't good enough. <br><br>With his North Carolina teammates struggling to get quality looks for most of the game, Felton put the Tar Heels on his shoulders and tried to carry them to the finish line. The problem for UNC, however, was that Julius Hodge and N.C. State beat him to it.

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Hodge scored 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and N.C. State shot 52.2 percent from 3-point range in defeating its arch rivals, 86-77, before a sellout crowd of 19,722 at the RBC Center.

"We have nothing to hang our heads about," said UNC coach Matt Doherty. "I am very proud of our effort. (N.C. State's) Marcus Melvin took two big shots that really hurt us, but overall this was a tough game. This is a good team (N.C. State) and a tough place to play."

Felton finished with a career high 28 points, including a UNC record eight 3-pointers in 12 attempts, but the rest of the Heels were just 4-20 from beyond the arc, which wasn't enough to offset the red-hot Wolfpack (11-4, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

"N.C. State is a good defensive team," Doherty said. "Melvin and (Josh) Powell are very good defenders that cause problems for the team and Jawad Williams."

Limited to only a few quality looks early, UNC's Rashad McCants responded to a three-point first half by scoring 17 in the second period, with 12 coming in the final nine minutes.

"I wasn't frustrated at all," the Asheville freshman said. "You can't get the ball every time down court. And you have to credit their defensive players."

Yet twice he brought the Heels (11-7, 2-3) within a basket of the Wolfpack; first with a pair of free throws to cut it to three with 8:42 left, and then with a ferocious left-handed slam to make it 66-64 with 4:51 remaining.

But the Wolfpack, which hit key shot after key shot, got a jumper and a 3-pointer from Melvin, and a conventional three-point play from Powell to dash to a 74-64 lead just 2:01 later, and the game was essentially over.

"We have to go back and see what our breakdowns were, because I don't know (why that happened)," McCants said. "I really can't think of anything now. They are a good team, maybe that's it."

Carolina led 35-34 at the half mainly because Felton drained four 3-pointers, Jackie Manuel tallied 10 points, and reserve forward Will Johnson, who was also hit with the first technical foul of his career, chipped in six points.

The Tar Heels' ball movement was sharp early, and they played with an extra skip in their collective steps. But UNC appeared to settle back into some familiar sets/non-sets offensively in the second stanza, and suddenly became more of a dribbling team than the passing bunch that led at the half. And a series of poor possessions in blue were countered with excellent execution in red, giving the Wolfpack a working margin for most of the second half.

But with the score tied at 45 with 15:21 left, Manuel - the Heels' best defender - picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench. And just over three minutes later, State was ahead 58-50 after Hodge rolled in a 3-ball, and UNC was playing catch-up the rest of the way.

"That hurt us big time," Felton said about Hodge's performance. "He started driving and penetrating and getting open looks for his teammates and then started getting to the basket and getting fouled. He's a great player and hurt us down the stretch."

Despite McCants' first double-double (20 points, 10 rebounds), Felton was UNC's ace.

Twice he drilled key 3s when it appeared that UNC was about to go into one of its classic funks, and he grew into more of a verbal leader on the afternoon, perhaps enjoying the taste of being the go-to-guy for a stretch. And without his performance, Carolina would have likely been run out of Raleigh in the second half.

"He tried," Williams said about Felton putting the Heels on his shoulders. "He did a good job of it. Ray's a great player and showed what he can do."

McCants said Felton was due for such a game.

"Raymond's a great player. We've been waiting on that performance for a while, and I feel he's gonna bring it every night now."

Felton said that it's not about carrying the team as it is about leading.

"Not necessarily putting the team on my shoulders but more being a leader on the court," he said. "I'm not saying I will put the team on my shoulders because it's not like that. All of my teammates, we contribute. Everybody brings something to the table."

Powell finished with 17 points and nine rebounds for State, while Melvin had 15, Clifford Crawford 13, and Scooter Sherrill had 11. Other than Felton, McCants, and Manuel, UNC got just 15 points, six each from Noel and Johnson, and three from Williams.

Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He also covers the ACC for the Wilmington Star-News/Morning Star and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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