Winners of six of its last seven, Carolina (17-6, 8-4 ACC) is assured a conference finish of no worse than .500 – an achievement many doubted prior to the season.
“I don’t think anybody expected us to do much this year, and it drove us to do a lot more than anyone expected,” Tyler Hansbrough said. “We came out and played real hard and got a ‘W.’”
It was just the Tar Heels’ second win in eight tries at Lawrence Joel Coliseum. They will attempt to continue to ride momentum and move further up the standings with a win at N.C. State on Wednesday. Tip-off at the RBC Center in Raleigh is set for 9 p.m.
“This definitely gives us confidence,” said Reyshawn Terry, whose game-high 24-point performance was just one off his career high. “We’ve had some setbacks this season, but we seem to be getting a winning streak going. It’s definitely a confidence booster for us and we look forward to going down there and getting a chance to get another road win in the ACC.”
Meanwhile, Wake Forest (13-13, 1-11), which began the season 11-2, has now dropped 11 of its last 13 contests.
Terry, playing his first meaningful minutes on the campus of his hometown university, connected on 7-of-14 field goal attempts, including 8-of-9 at the free throw line.
“It was great to do well in front of the home crowd and get a win,” Terry said. “But we have to put this game behind us and get ready for the next road game.”
In his last six games, Terry is averaging 18.5 points per game, while making 52.9 percent of his shots.
Hansbrough followed up his record-breaking 40-point performance last Wednesday against Georgia Tech, with 17 versus Wake. David Noel (13 points) and Danny Green (10) also finished in double figures.
The teams were statistically similar in nearly every category in a first half in which 21 fouls were called. Noel was the first casualty of the tightly called game, picking up his third personal with 8:59 to play before intermission.
Behind 15 points from Eric Williams and 12 by Justin Gray (4-of-9 from three-point range), the Deacons took a 44-39 lead to the locker room. And back-to-back threes by Gray and Michael Drum out of the gate to start the second half would quickly stoke Wake to its largest lead of the game of nine points.
But the Tar Heels battled back to tie the score at 53 apiece with 12:36 remaining. UNC, which came back from 20 points down to Georgia Tech on Wednesday, capped a 10-0 run with a Terry layup later followed by a Frasor free throw which knotted the game.
Then, after several attempts to retake the lead, Noel knocked down a three from beyond the arc to put Carolina up by three. However, on the Deacs’ ensuing possession, he was whistled for his fourth foul with just over 10 minutes left.
“It was real frustrating,” Noel said. “But when I got in foul trouble our guys stepped and played real good ball. That’s what I like about this team, when one guy goes down, the other guys have got their back.”
UNC extended its lead to 66-59 moments later after a three from Terry and subsequent steal and layup by Marcus Ginyard, as the Tar Heels never looked back.
“Coach said (at halftime) he didn’t think anybody was sweating and he said that’s just unacceptable,” Wes Miller said. “He said, ‘You guys aren’t playing with the energy and intensity that we play with here at Carolina.’ All of our coaches just urged us to look inside ourselves and turn things around.
“The Carolina-State game is always a big game no matter what is going on,” continued Miller. “It’s the next game, and that’s the biggest reason it’s a big game. We’ll be ready Wednesday night and I’m sure State will be too.”