Quick hits and notes from NC State's emotional 75-63 loss to No. 19 North Carolina Wednesday night in front of 19,700 rabid fans at the RBC Center in Raleigh.
Play of the game
NC State was trailing 60-56 with 5:21 left in the game after freshman guard Lorenzo Brown hit a runner in a one-on-one move against UNC freshman wing Harrison Barnes. Brown was fouled, but just 15 seconds after Wolfpack freshman guard Ryan Harrow missed a pair of free throws, Brown missed his attempt.
UNC senior center Justin Knox missed the front end of a one-and-one on the ensuing possession, and that set up the crucial play of the game. First UNC sophomore forward John Henson rejected a lay-up attempt by NC State freshman forward C.J. Leslie. On the other end of the court, Henson missed a close shot, but Barnes came grabbed the rebound with two hands and while in mid-air slammed the offensive board back in with one hand, giving UNC a 62-56 lead with 4:02 left.
Highlight of the game
Seems like Leslie is good for one highlight dunk every game. He made a baseline move around UNC junior center Tyler Zeller and threw down a nice one-handed reverse dunk on the other side of the basket over Zeller to cut UNC's lead to 40-35 with 16:23 left in the game.
Player of the game
Barnes had a miserable first half, missing all six of his shot attempts and settling for two points on a pair of free throws. The second half was a complete 180-degree difference.
Barnes made 6 of 11 shots, including 2 of 5 three-pointers, to finish with a game-high 16 points. He also added eight rebounds.
With UNC leading 54-52 with 7:31 left in the game, Barnes made a crucial jumper to start a 13-7 Tar Heels run over the next 5:30-plus minutes during which Barnes scored seven points.
Strickland steps up
Before Barnes took over the game, the player of the night looked like it was going to UNC sophomore guard Dexter Strickland. His back-to-back fast break baskets in the first half cut NC State's 19-9 lead to 19-13 and ignited the Heels. Strickland also hit a three-pointer to tie the score at 24-24 with 4:35 left. He finished with nine first half points and was the primary reason UNC led 31-29 at halftime.
Strickland would finish the game with 13 points and was the lone UNC player to make over half his shot attempts. He finished 5 of 8 from the field and added a pair of assists and two steals in 34 minutes without turning the ball over once.
Strickland was not an ideal candidate for a big game. He had gone 0 of 9 from the field in his last three games and averaged 2.5 points during his last four contests.
Henson steps up
The first time NC State and UNC played, the combination of Barnes and Henson dominated. The two were not quite as dominant Wednesday night, but they certainly made their presences felt.
Barnes had a then-career high 25 points against State in an 84-64 UNC win in Chapel Hill Jan. 29. Henson had 16 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocked shots. His swats total tied a career-high.
Wednesday night, Henson was not as effective offensively, scoring eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, but he was a force in the paint. He had 15 rebounds and six blocks in 33 minutes. In two games vs. State Henson averaged 12 points, 15.5 rebounds and 6.5 blocks.
Since the week-long break following the debacle at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham when Duke routed NC State 76-52 Feb. 5, NC State has turned in four good efforts. The Pack played with noticeable intensity and effort in an at-times physical contest with UNC.
One spark off the bench was sophomore center Jordan Vandenberg. The 7-foot-1 Australian had not played more than four minutes in any ACC game this year and had not scored a single point since he had two against Arizona Dec. 19. Vandenberg played 15 minutes Wednesday night and went 2 of 3 from the field, both dunks. One of his slams was off an alley-oop feed from Brown. Vandenberg finished with four points, three rebounds and three blocked shots.
Brown played a good all-around floor game, scoring 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting and adding eight assists, five rebounds and three steals with just three turnovers in 34 minutes. Brown matched his career-high in assists which he set last time out at Maryland last Sunday night.
The game was Brown's first double-digit scoring performance since he had 15 at Duke Feb. 5. Brown seems to enjoy playing against UNC. The first time these two teams met Brown had 20 points and seven assists.
Lowe gets T'd up
After the game, NC State head coach Sidney Lowe clearly tried hard to bite his tongue when asked about his technical foul. He also claimed his team was "confused" after the game when asked about his team's state of mind, but Lowe quickly said he did not want to say more.
Lowe's ire may have been particularly directed at official Michael Stephens, who one reporter said after the game was officiating his first ever NC State contest. Stephens engaged in a lengthy conversation with Henson just before the start of the second half that got Wolfpack assistant coach Monte Towe visibly upset. It was also Stephens who called a controversial intentional foul on NC State sophomore wing Scott Wood in the first half.
After Henson and Zeller both appeared to have blocked a shot attempt from NC State senior forward Tracy Smith with 1:38 left, Henson started talking trash to Smith. Lowe yelled at Stephens that Henson was taunting, and Lowe hinted after the game he believed Smith was fouled on the play as well. After UNC head coach Roy Williams called a timeout with 1:24 left, Stephens warned Lowe not to yell at him, but Lowe continued and Stephens gave him a technical.
Lowe said after the game he thought it was his first technical foul as a head coach at NC State.
What the loss means
NC State falls to 14-13 on the year and 4-9 in the ACC. Due to Miami and Virginia's wins Wednesday night, NC State is now alone in 10th place in the ACC, one game ahead of Georgia Tech who travels to NC State Saturday afternoon. NC State would play Boston College in the first round of the ACC Tournament if the event were held today. NC State is also now assured of a losing conference record for the fifth straight season.
North Carolina improves to 21-6 on the year and 11-2 in the ACC. The Heels clinched a first round bye in the ACC Tournament with the win and cannot be seeded any lower than fourth.
UNC sweeps the season series against the Pack and improves to 144-75 all-time against State. Carolina has won 10 in a row against State and 20 of the last 25 games. The Heels are 9-3 in the RBC Center and 60-44 overall in Raleigh. Williams is 21-1 all-time dating back to his days as a head coach at Kansas against NC State.
Other stats of note
- UNC outrebounded NC State 47-33 overall and 19-12 on the offensive glass. The Heels had a 20-6 second-chance points advantage.
¬- NC State outscored UNC 42-34 in the paint and 18-11 in fast break points. The Pack's bench also outscored the Carolina reserves 16-13.
- The Heels had a 16-14 edge in points off turnovers despite the fact that NC State won the turnover battle 11-10.