North Carolina (17-3, 4-1 ACC) struck early with a 13-1 run to build a 15-6 lead over the visiting Wolfpack (15-6, 4-2 ACC). Senior guard C.J. Williams responded with six straight points to cut into UNC's advantage, but the Tar Heels pulled away with a 10-0 run late to take a 37-20 lead before Lorenzo Brown's 80-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer finalized the first half scoring.
Scott Wood drained a 3-pointer to open the second half, but an ensuing 12-2 UNC spurt pushed the Tar Heels' lead to 21 points. A 12-0 run several minutes later gave North Carolina a 63-32 lead with 10:52 to play.
N.C. State closed the game on a 23-11 run.
Harrison Barnes scored 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting and Reggie Bullock added 11 points, five rebounds and three assists in his first career start. John Henson grabbed 10 rebounds to go along with nine points and five blocks, while Kendall Marshall dished out 11 assists, marking the eighth time this season that he's posted double-digit assists.
Scott Wood paced N.C. State with 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting. Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie each scored nine points for the Wolfpack.
North Carolina shot 48.4 percent (31-of-65), while holding N.C. State to a season-low 36.8 percent (21-of-57). UNC won the rebounding battle, 48-26.
INSIDE THE GAME
Length, Length and More Length
North Carolina's double-digit victories over N.C. State last season were dictated by the Tar Heels' length all over the court, and with most of the same players taking the Smith Center court on Thursday, that same scenario repeated itself.
Zeller and Henson's size in the interior frustrated their shorter counterparts in Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie, especially in the first half, as the Wolfpack duo combined for nine points on 3-of-12 shooting. N.C. State shot just 4-of-12 in the paint during the opening half, thanks in part to UNC's six blocks.
Without a post presence to provide any offense, N.C. State was forced to look to the perimeter, where the opportunities were equally as slim.
Wood arrived in Chapel Hill averaging 15.6 points per game and knocking down 40.6 percent of his 3-pointers in ACC play, but his athletic deficiencies – despite his 6-foot-6 frame – made it difficult to find room against Bullock. Wood missed all three of his field goal attempts in the first half.
"You can't give Scott an open look, so what you try to do is get there and make sure you have a hand in his face," UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. "He's a very good player who doesn't take bad shots, so if you're there and have a hand in his face, there's a great chance that he may not take it."
In his last three games against UNC, Wood has scored 16 points on 5-of-17 shooting.
Marshall also deserves credit for limiting Brown's effectiveness in what was supposed to be an elite ACC point guard matchup. The N.C. State sophomore needed an 80-footer at the halftime buzzer to post six points on 2-of-6 shooting to go along with one assist and four turnovers.
"We were not very sharp offensively," N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried said. "We've played against good defensive teams this year. So yes, they were very good, and at the same time, we were not very good. The combination of the two… Here we are."
There's some truth in those comments, but North Carolina's lineup presents a number of matchup problems for N.C. State simply due to its length. That won't change in the 26 days before these teams meet again in Raleigh.
Intensity Off the Tip
If there was a question lingering over the North Carolina basketball team prior to tip, it was this – how does a team that got embarrassed at Florida State show up flat in the first half against Virginia Tech five days later?
After slow starts in three straight ACC games born out of a lack of intensity, North Carolina responded on Thursday night with a solid opening 30 minutes. But it wasn't because the opponent was N.C. State; it was because the loss of Dexter Strickland had changed UNC's season.
"There was more emphasis on everybody trying to come together as a team," freshman Desmond Hubert said. "Everybody has to step up now because we have to fill a role that's missing now."
Barnes expanded on those comments to include an emphasis on defense – Strickland's bread and butter.
"Just losing Dexter, we had to all come together and just try to make defense our staple," Barnes said. "Getting more and more into ACC games, our defense is what's going to separate teams from being at the top of the ACC to being at the bottom."
It's too early to define Strickland's injury as a rallying point, but this roster responded well last season when adversity hit during the ACC slate. What should be sure-fire victories against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest in the next five days will provide a good litmus test as to whether this level of intensity continues.
White Experiment Works Out
Fans and media knew that Williams was going to have to figure out a way to steal Marshall minutes to rest with Strickland's injury, but no one knew quite how. Despite hints during his media availability that UNC might forgo a point guard at times, Williams turned to freshman Stilman White twice in the first half – 80 seconds total – to spell his starter.
The decision worked. White found Zeller for an assist in the first half and ended the game with three points, one assist and no turnovers in five minutes.
"I think definitely today I was just trying to get my feet wet and going out there and seeing if I could handle the pressure," White said. "I felt pretty confident out there, which I'm pretty happy with."
Marshall logged 19 minutes in the first half, but only 34 for the game as UNC built its sizeable advantage.
"It was hard for me trying to figure out how I was going to do it," Williams said. "I knew I wanted to manage Kendall's minutes around the timeouts and I think I did that."
Hubert a Highlight
James Michael McAdoo needed just 98 seconds to pick up three fouls less than six minutes in on Thursday, putting North Carolina in a precarious position in the post. Hubert, who missed the last two games with a sprained left ankle, quickly entered and delivered a solid performance off the bench.
The 6-foot-9 freshman pulled down five rebounds, including three offensive, in 13 minutes. Hubert played just combined six minutes in UNC's first two ACC games against Boston College and Miami.
"I was just trying to help my team where they needed me," Hubert said. "I know I'm not one of the most polished offensive players, but the one thing I can do is play defense and rebound. That's what I try to focus on when I get out there."