Both teams struggled off the tip, combining to shoot 2-of-14 while entering the second media timeout tied at 13-all. By that time, though, the PNC Arena crowd had seen enough to realize a much-needed signature win was indeed possible. The Wolfpack entered the game 0-7 against Top-50 RPI opponents and on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
N.C. State emerged from the media timeout inspired, scoring on seven of its next eight possessions. UNC, on the other hand, scored on just one of its next seven possessions to go along with three turnovers. The result was a 13-2 Wolfpack run and an 11-point lead.
The Tar Heels were out of sync early offensively. They suffered a similar start in falling behind by 15 at Florida State 10 days ago, but couldn’t get out of their own way in West Raleigh in trying to close the gap before halftime. N.C. State scored 11 points on UNC’s 11 turnovers and held an 11-5 edge in second-chance points despite being outrebounded 21-13 (10-6 OR).
To put those 11 turnovers into perspective, consider that the most turnovers UNC has committed in a game during its current winning streak is 14.
When Leslie McDonald threw a pass away underneath on UNC’s opening possession of the second half, N.C. State took advantage by increasing its lead to 35-26 on the other end.
McDonald’s turnover, however, ended up being the Tar Heels’ final official error of the night. You read that correctly - UNC went the next 24 minutes and 41 seconds without committing a turnover.
“The best stat I think is that we had 11 turnovers at half and we played the last 25 minutes with one turnover,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters following his team’s 85-84 overtime victory. “Needless to say, that was pretty important to us.”
By erasing their mistakes, the Tar Heels were able to score on 20 of their final 31 possessions of the second half, while averaging a staggering 1.45 points per possession. That mark increases to 1.48 points per possession when including overtime.
“Getting better shots helped,” sophomore guard Marcus Paige said of the turnover turnaround. “We were able to settle down and find a rhythm offensively. Then you’re not forcing things, you’re not throwing the ball away. Just settling down and getting our defense set and just playing the way we’ve been playing through these last nine games rather than rushing and being careless on offense.”
Those additional opportunities led to better rhythm, which resulted in better efficiency. UNC shot 38.5 percent in the first half before converting on 50 percent of its field goal attempts both in the second half (15-of-30) and overtime (5-of-10).
Despite providing the kindling to spark the PNC Arena’s crowd in the first half, UNC’s 180-degree turn in taking care of the ball – along with a helping of heroics from Paige – was plenty enough to silence the Wolfpack faithful once again as the game clock ran out.