NC State let out years of frustration on North Carolina in a dominant first two-thirds of the game Saturday.
NC State last topped UNC 83-79 on Feb. 3, 2007, but had won the last 13 games since and 19 of the last 20. NCSU junior point guard Lorenzo Brown scored a game-high 20 points and dished out 11 assists, and freshman forward T.J. Warren added 19 points off the bench and the Wolfpack cruised to a 91-83 victory over North Carolina at PNC Arena.
No. 18-ranked NC State improved to 16-4 overall and 5-2 in the ACC, and play at Virginia on Tuesday. UNC fell to 13-6 and 3-3 in the league.
NC State has proven itself on the big stage at PNC Arena, but are hoping for season-long consistency after falling 86-84 to Wake Forest last Tuesday.
"I'm glad my guys come out and play hard when we play against big teams," Brown said. "If we played like we did against Wake Forest, they'd probably kill us by like 30. I'm glad we came out and played our best."
NC State controlled every facet of the game during the first half. The downhill slide started when NC State junior power forward C.J. Leslie was able to draw two quick fouls in the first 1:58 of the game from UNC sophomore power forward James Michael McAdoo.
The absence of McAdoo was one part of a puzzle, and NC State's transition game and dominance at the point guard position was another.
The Wolfpack beat the Tar Heels at their own game, holding a 20-0 fastbreak points advantage in the first half to build a 45-26 halftime lead. Brown was the catalyst with 12 of his 20 points.
Brown used to be the victim of going against some outstanding guards his freshman season in 2010-2011. Future NBA guards Reggie Jackson of Boston College, Nolan Smith of Duke, Iman Shumpert of Georgia Tech and Kendall Marshall of UNC, were some of his opponents. Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney was also a great college guard that season.
Brown was able to indoctrinate UNC freshman point guard Marcus Paige in the same manner. Paige suffered through a miserable game, and finished with seven points, four assists and three turnovers in 29 minutes. The Iowa native shot 2 of 11 from the field and 1 of 5 from three-point range.
"It's definitely unfair," said NCSU senior center Richard Howell about having Paige try to guard Brown. "That was one of the things I told him from the beginning, a point guard was guarding him. He just needed to go at him, and he did from the start."
NC State freshman shooting guard Rodney Purvis wasn't sure if he would have Paige or UNC senior shooting guard Dexter Strickland would be guarding him. When he saw Paige on Brown, he knew the likely outcome.
"I was kind of skeptical on who they would put on him at first," Purvis said. "With Dexter being a senior, and they say he is pretty good on defense, so I thought Dexter would be put on him first. They put Marcus on him and coach said 'You got a freshman on you. Do what you do.' That is what Zo did."
The absence of McAdoo, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes before eventually fouling out, allowed Howell and Leslie to dominate the paint. Howell had 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Leslie finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds for the inside-out Wolfpack.
"I definitely wanted to come out more aggressive," Leslie said. "I had to get something going, and that was the game plan, and everyone was with it."
The 19-point halftime lead grew to 28 in the second half. Brown got a steal and layup to give the Wolfpack a commanding 61-33 lead with 13:22 left in the game. The soldout crowd roared in approval and the arena became festive throughout most of the second half.
"The first 20 minutes, I thought defensively we were as fundamentally sound and unselfish as I've seen us be," NCSU second-year coach Mark Gottfried said. "That is how we have to play. A lot of different guys stepped up and made huge plays."
UNC turned to its bench during the second half, partly looking for a spark but coach Roy Williams was also proving a point to some of his starters.
Sophomore wing P.J. Hairston usually thrives as a volume shooter, and with the Tar Heels down 28 points, he was turned loose out of desperation. He finished with 19 points and made 5 of 8 three-pointers in 17 minutes off the bench. Freshman forward J.P. Tokoto added 10 points off the bench in 17 minutes.
UNC cut the score to 70-61 with 5:21 left in the game, but Leslie and senior small forward Scott Wood ensured nothing crazy would continue to happen. Leslie got an assist and then a basket, and Wood made a rare four-point play to stretch the lead back up to 78-63 with 4:18 left.
North Carolina eventually cut the lead to 85-80 with 28 seconds left, but then Wood hit two free throws, and Brown drained four straight to preserve the victory.
"In my opinion, there isn't a lot to say, it was a butt-kicking is what it was," Coach Williams said. "We've had enough learning experiences. We have to play. Everyone in a Carolina uniform had a rough night tonight. I'm not into moral victories guys or this pansy kind of crap. We stunk."
Seniors Wood and Howell finally can say they defeated North Carolina.
"We let it slip there and let the game get out of hand for the last five minutes or so, but at the end of the day, we got the win, and that's all that matters," Wood said. "I'm tired of hearing everything about it [losing 13 straight to UNC], so it's nice to get the monkey off our back."
Howell was still thinking about how the Wolfpack let one slip away against Wake Forest last week, but loved the one-two punch of defeating Duke and NC State at home in the same season.
"It definitely feels good," Howell said. "It definitely feels good to knock off the No. 1 team, and then you beat a team you haven't beat since you've been in college. This was our best defensive game. The offense will definitely be there, so we just have to show up on D."
The North Carolina natives on the team such as Leslie, Purvis and Warren, talked after the game about how important it was to make a statement against the Tar Heels.
Warren picked NC State over Georgetown and UNC and understands the Triangle rivalries being a Wolfpack legacy and being a Durham native.
"This feels great," Warren said. "Growing up and seeing all this, and going back to when [ex-coach] Herb [Sendek] was here and watching when [former coach] Sidney [Lowe] coach here, it feels good to get that win.
"I chose the right school. I came to NC State to beat the blue schools, and that's what we did."