Quick hits and notes from NC State's tough 69-67 loss to No. 4 North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament Saturday afternoon in Atlanta in front of a crowd of 19,520 fans at Phillips Arena.
Play(s) of the game
The final minute, it seemed every break went UNC's way. It started with an unforced turnover with the game tied at 67-67 by NC State. Fifth-year senior guard Alex Johnson threw a simple pass wide to sophomore guard Lorenzo Brown, and the ball deflected off Brown's outstretched arms out of bounds, giving UNC possession with 42.6 seconds left.
UNC tried to get the ball to sophomore wing Harrison Barnes, but when nothing developed, they cleared out for sophomore guard Kendall Marshall. He drove to the basket to his left, made contact with Johnson who tried to draw the charge on the play. The refs ruled no foul, and Marshall was left with an open short shot that he banked in with 10.2 seconds left.
State hurried down the court, and junior wing Scott Wood tried to sling a pass under the basket to junior center DeShawn Painter, who was open for a brief second. UNC senior wing Justin Watts however alertly hustled underneath the basket and picked off the pass, although his shoes came tantalizingly close to touching the out of bounds line if it did not. Watts threw the ball all the way down the court.
Johnson recovered it and called timeout with 1.2 seconds left. State's last heave though resulted in junior forward Richard Howell not getting a clean shot off after he was tangled up with Barnes and UNC sophomore wing Reggie Bullock.
Highlight of the game
NC State was looking like they were in deep trouble down 66-61 after a pair of free throws from UNC senior center Tyler Zeller with 2:23 left. That's when Brown took over for State, and it started with an impressive drive to the basket that was finished with a high-flying two-handed dunk in traffic with 2:05 left.
Player of the game
For UNC, it clearly was Zeller. Without the services of junior forward John Henson, who sprained his left wrist in the quarterfinal win over Maryland Friday afternoon, UNC needed a big game from Zeller and got one. The ACC Player of the Year made 8 of 11 shots and 7 of 8 free throws for a game-high 23 points to go with a team-high nine rebounds before fouling out with 1:08 left.
For NC State it was sophomore forward C.J. Leslie, who made 9 of 14 shots and 4 of 6 free throws for a team-high 22 points and had seven rebounds in just 29 minutes before fouling out on two disputed fouls with over eight minutes left.
The bulk of the discussion following the game centered not on what was a hard-fought battle between two ACC rivals but rather what many believed was an unbalanced series of close calls that favored UNC. As CBS Sports' headline said: "UNC gets calls, eliminates NC State."
Both ESPN and MSNBC also took note, with the latter suggesting that NC State "probably got hosed" and ESPN stating in its bubble watch that NC State got "the wrong end of a couple of key calls."
"The refs were bad for both teams, but there's little question that NC State felt the lion's share of the pain," ESPN added.
Where are the wings?
For whatever reason, UNC has proven to be a tough matchup for NC State's wing duo of Wood and senior C.J. Williams. Wood went just 1 of 6 from the field, 0 of 4 from three-point range and finished with two points. He snapped his streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer at 29 games.
In three games this season against UNC, Wood went 6 of 23 from the field overall and 4 of 17 on threes and a total of 16 points.
Williams was not much better. He shot 1 of 5 from the field Saturday, including 0 of 2 from three-point range, and made 1 of 2 free throws for three points, continuing a recent offensive slump. Williams ended up playing 20 minutes, with Johnson getting the majority of the playing time at 28 minutes.
In three games this year against UNC, Williams scored a total of 19 points. More concerning though is Williams' stretch of play offensively over much of the past month. Starting Feb. 16 with the game at Duke, Williams has scored double figures just once in a nine-game stretch. At the ACC Tournament, Williams shot 6 of 22 from the field and 1 of 7 on three-pointers. Williams has made just 1 of his last 12 three-point attempts.
The bubble watch
Two of the most renowned "bracketologists" are ESPN's Joe Lunardi and CBS's Jerry Palm, who runs the respected site CollegeRPI.com. Both have NC State in the field of 68.
Lunardi has NC State as one of the last four teams in, with Mississippi State and Seton Hall behind them on that list. He has the Pack as a 13 seed in the South Region playing Seton Hall in one of the four play-in games for the right to face Wisconsin in the first round.
Palm also has the Pack playing in Dayton, facing Northwestern in the West Region, with the winner playing New Mexico in round one. Palm blogged early Sunday morning that he has NC State as the last team in the field.
What the loss means
NC State is 22-12 overall while UNC improved to 29-4 and will face Florida State for the ACC title Sunday afternoon. FSU defeated Duke in the other semifinal Saturday.
UNC continues its recent domination over State, winning its 13th straight over the Pack and 19th in the last 20 games. Carolina holds the overall edge in the series 147-75.
Other stats of note
- UNC had a slight 34-33 edge on the boards, but State had an 8-6 advantage in offensive rebounding. State had an impressive 17-8 edge in second-chance points.
- NC State dominated the transition game, a rarity for any team against UNC. The Pack had a 17-7 edge in fast break points.
- For the third straight game, NC State's bench outscored its opponent. State's reserves had 13 points compared to UNC's four.
- State had a slight 36-34 edge in the paint.
- NC State lost the turnover margin 16-15, and the Heels used that for an 18-11 edge in points off turnovers.