NC State senior wing C.J. Williams is well-versed on every bit of the rivalry with North Carolina.
The Fayetteville, N.C., native grew up watching NC State and UNC battle, and is now going to be an integral member of this year's games, starting Thursday at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Williams grew up cheering for the Tar Heels and the Wolfpack to a certain extent, but bleeds red after four years in Raleigh.
"I grew up liking them [UNC], but I've grown to love NC State and I'm glad to be here," Williams said. "Seeing both sides of the rivalry, it kind of prepares me for this game a little bit better. I know what the other side thinks."
NCSU coach Mark Gottfried has entrusted Williams to guard UNC leading scoring Harrison Barnes. The sophomore small forward is averaging 17.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Tar Heels, and is noticeably improved from three-point range at 43.6 percent (34.4 last year). Barnes' is coming off his season-high of 27 points at Virginia Tech on Jan. 19.
"You have to disrupt him," Williams said. "You have to get under his skin a little bit. Sometimes deny him, sometimes let him catch it, sometimes back off and sometimes play tight. You have to play mind games with him. He can't get comfortable with one thing."
The 6-5, 224-pound Williams has become NC State's top perimeter defender and a trusted scorer. He is averaging 12.0 points per game and shooting 51.6 percent from the field, 35.0 from three-point land and 86.1 from the free-throw line, all much better than last year.
Williams makes most of his shot in the mid-range area or from beyond the arc, but has improved his athleticism to the point where he's more than capable of dunking on a big man. He knows that UNC 7-0 senior center Tyler Zeller at 6-11 junior power forward John Henson await at the rim for the Tar Heels.
"You have to go straight through them," Williams said. "You can't go around them. Those guys are so long. You give them any kind of time to react to the ball, they are going to go get. You have to put it behind you and just go in there. I know me personally, I have to go in there thinking, 'Just dunk the ball.'"
Williams said assistant director of operations Levi Watkins told the team and the new coaches what it was like when his Wolfpack team defeated North Carolina in the past.
"They came back, and there was 6,000 fans sitting outside of Reynolds Coliseum," Williams said. "It's not just big because it's a rivalry game, but we want to continue what we've been doing. We are tied for first place and we want to continue that."
Williams has played the Tar Heels six times in his college career, and crossed paths with many of their players in pro-am action during the offseason.
"The pro-am is a little different with some show-boating, but there was definitely a buzz last year when I played in it," Williams said. "It was kind of like NC State guys against Carolina guys [in a packed North Carolina Central gym]. You kind of get a little more of a feel when they are playing freely."