North Carolina (24-4, 11-2 ACC) jumped out to a 19-5 lead, but N.C. State (18-10, 7-6 ACC) used a pair of runs – 8-0 and 11-0 – to eventually tie the game at 30. UNC responded with a 7-1 spurt and took a 46-41 lead into halftime.
The Tar Heels opened the second half with five consecutive points to regain a double-digit lead. The Wolfpack cut its deficit to seven points at 62-55 with 11:25 to play, but North Carolina secured its 12th straight victory over N.C. State with a 12-1 run to extend its lead to 18 points with 7:51 remaining.
Marshall's career-high in points led UNC, while Harrison Barnes (20 points) delivered his fourth 20-point game in five outings and his 12th of the season. John Henson added a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds and Reggie Bullock contributed 11 points and eight rebounds.
C.J. Leslie paced N.C. State with 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting and 12 rebounds. Lorenzo Brown scored 18 points, but shot just 6-of-21 from the floor.
North Carolina connected on 50.9 percent of its field goal attempts (29-of-57, 10-of-19 on 3-pointers), while holding N.C. State to 41.4 percent (29-of-70). Both teams grabbed 40 rebounds.
INSIDE THE GAME
Marshall the Magician
Let's be critical for a moment before we lavish praise on Kendall Marshall. According to Roy Williams, his point guard technically had two turnovers on Tuesday night. Only one was glaring, however – a bullet to Zeller under the basket that bounced off his hands while the shot clock ran down.
"I can sit up here and nitpick, but the kid played a phenomenal basketball game," Williams said, adding, "I don't think I've ever had anyone 13-0."
Have no doubts about it – if you watched North Carolina defeat N.C. State for the 35th time in 43 tries, then you witnessed one of the great point guard performances in school history.
Marshall set career highs in points and 3-pointers (4). He connected on 7-of-8 of his field goals, including a 4-of-5 effort from long range. He's had 13 assists or more eight times this season and became the second-fastest in ACC history to eclipse the 500-assist plateau (65 games; NCSU's Chris Corchiani did it in 63). Marshall's 505 career assists move him into 10th place in school history.
Oddly enough, the most intriguing stat of the night is that Tuesday marked Marshall's first career start without an official turnover.
"I was just happy to come out here and help my team get a win," Marshall told reporters in a packed locker room. "Because of how great of scorers we have on the inside with Zeller, Barnes and Henson, they're going to command a lot of double teams. Tonight I was able to make them pay from the outside."
Marshall, who doesn't remember being his team's leading scorer since middle school, had 13 points at halftime after only having three previous games this season in double figures.
As for that pass to Zeller that landed in the N.C. State band area, the senior forward accepted responsibility sitting 15 feet across from Marshall in the locker room.
"I'm willing to take that," Zeller said. "For one, I should have caught it. It's a tough catch, but he has confidence I can catch it. He's made enough passes that have made it easy for me, so I'm willing to take one for him."
Long Range Drilling
N.C. State's defensive strategy was clear from the get-go – collapse on the interior and force the Tar Heels to beat them from the perimeter. It was a well-designed approach that didn't work because UNC knocked down six of its first 10 3-pointers in building a 28-18 advantage.
North Carolina's seven first-half 3-pointers represent the most it has made in a half since connecting on 7-of-10 in the second stanza against Georgia Tech on Jan. 29.
So while the Wolfpack managed to hold Zeller to 14 points on 3-of-7 shooting, UNC compensated by knocking down its most 3-pointers (10-of-19) since an 11-of-18 effort at Kentucky on Dec. 3.
"That's what makes us special – we're extremely versatile," Zeller said. "It's something that if they throw me the ball and you double down and our guards are hitting like that tonight, it makes it easy on me. I just throw it back out and they knock it down."
After a 113-minute, 36-second stretch in which the Tar Heels missed 25-of-27 3-pointers ranging from Maryland to Miami, they have now drained 21 of their last 43 (48.8) from beyond the arc.
Tough on the Road
N.C. State honored the 1988-89 squad prior to tip-off in the wake of Saturday's controversy when former players Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta were ejected during the loss to Florida State, so there was little doubt that the RBC Center would be fired up for the Tar Heels.
Marshall told reporters on Monday that UNC's goal was to come out strong and try to take the fans out of the game. But while the Tar Heels were unable to silence the crowd, they matched N.C. State's intensity off the tip and that proved enough on Tuesday.
When asked if this win represented UNC's most business-like performance on the road, Williams replied: "I think we've been that every game on the road."
That's certainly been the case ever since the Florida State debacle. You can even make the argument that North Carolina has played better away from home than at home over the last five weeks.
Barnes pointed to improved and evolving team chemistry in tough spots since earlier defeats in Las Vegas, Kentucky and Tallahassee.
"We didn't really do the best job of coming together and everyone being focused, being calm and relaxed and poised," Barnes said. "Coming out here tonight, we made the first punch and I thought we just never let down."
Follow IC on Twitter @InsideCarolina.