Tar Heels' trip to Raleigh follows script, reflects reality
Posted February 15
Updated February 16
Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina's 97-73 win at NC State Wednesday wasn't the 51-point monstrosity that the two teams' first game was. But it was, well, it was predictable.
Roy Williams opened his postgame press conference by explaining that his team knew it'd have an advantage inside and wanted to make that an important part of its game. Chapel Hill's team outscored Raleigh's 60 to 22 in the paint and out-rebounded the Pack 41 to 25.
"You can look at the stat sheet and pick anything, but I think us being able to get the ball inside and score and rebound inside was the biggest factor," Williams said.
Mark Gottfried began his meeting with the media Wednesday night emphasizing just how experienced his opponent looked and the way that helped the ACC's top team out-play his own squad. Gottfried explained that his bigs weren't able to get the best of their matchups, perimeter shooters missed wide open shots early and the Wolfpack failed to defend off the dribble well.
Everything that has been a problem for NC State this season was a problem -- in about the average capacity -- against rival North Carolina.
"They seemed to have an answer for everything we did," Gottfried said. "We've struggled at times this year, mostly to guard people off the dribble. Keeping people in front of us: I thought that was an issue. Our transition defense was better, but then I thought we gave up too many rebounds.
"We like to beat ourselves up. We certainly didn't do things well, but that's a good team," Gottfried added.
Any way either team, coach or fan base looks at this meeting -- as UNC's largest margin of victory at PNC since 2006 or as at least a closer game than the last time these teams met -- it played out in a way that reflected each season.
The sturdy showing from UNC reflected its weaknesses and its strengths. Isaiah Hicks returned from injury, but had three fouls near the midway point of the first half and the Tar Heels didn't defend the perimeter as well as Williams wants to see them without leading long-range defender Kenny Williams.
But North Carolina did what it needed to, how it needed to, in order to hold its spot atop the ACC. NC State, on the other hand, further solidified its inability to turn a talented group of rookies into a successful ACC competitor in just a season.
Whether it's a product of poor coaching, apathy or failure to improve the repetitive mistakes over the course of the season, the Wolfpack's problems persisted.
As has been the case, star point guard Dennis Smith Jr. led the team in scoring (27 points) and sparked mini scoring runs that shrank the deficit at times, but it simply wasn't enough. Maverick Rowan hit long-range shots to provide Smith with scoring support, the Pack stole the ball seven times to UNC's six, but turned the ball over 17 times.
With two and a half weeks left in the regular season, the second meeting between the Triangle's second most notable rivalry did nothing more than confirm what was already known.