UNC (23-4, 9-3 ACC) should have all the internal motivation necessary to avenge the 83-79 defeat at the RBC Center on Feb. 3.
“It was very disappointing,” Tyler Hansbrough said. “It wasn’t one of those games where they rattle one in on a buzzer beater; they had us pretty much the whole game.”
State (14-11, 4-8) shot 76.5 percent in the second half in that game.
“Some of those shots were well-guarded,” Roy Williams said. “They kicked our tails, but we didn’t play with near the intensity we wanted to from beginning to end. We came out and didn’t have the focus that we needed to have defensively. They acted offensively, and we reacted defensively the whole game.”
As was the case prior to that meeting, the Wolfpack is coming off a decisive win over the Hokies – the most recent an 81-56 win at home. A week ago, Virginia Tech snapped UNC’s 17-game home winning streak with an 81-80 overtime victory in Chapel Hill.
“Before the Virginia Tech game, I thought our guys would have pulled the nails out of the floor, so we’ll have to wait and see.” Williams said. “I hope we’ve learned our lesson. We had two very good practices before Boston College, went in to a tough environment, and we were able to do some nice things.”
It remains to be seen if Sidney Lowe will again don the red Jim Valvano tribute blazer he wore in the first meeting. But if he is able to guide the Pack to the win over UNC, he will reach a rarified status never attained by his infamous college coach.
No N.C. State coach has ever won in its first attempt in Chapel Hill, and Everett Case was the only Wolfpack coach to ever win his first two games against Carolina.
“Their five is as good as anybody’s five, and they play so well together,” Williams said. “They just don’t have the depth of the other teams. They’ve got big guys who are really good passers. [Ben] McCauley is one of the best passing big men in our league. They have a really heady, savvy, intelligent point guard (in Engin Atsur) who has played forever. They have big men who can stretch the defense.”
Still, bigger than what kind of State team shows up at the Smith Center is the concern over the Tar Heels’ focus and intensity at tip-off. UNC proved it could maintain its concentration at Boston College on Saturday from start to finish, and is out to prove it has gained a toughness it didn’t have prior to earlier losses.
“I wouldn’t say it’s because of being overconfident,” Wayne Ellington said. “Sometimes we’ve just had those lapses. We’ve come out flat sometimes and that’s something we’re going to have to get over.”
Then there’s the need to remain atop the ACC standings with Virginia (9-3), which appears to have a more palatable slate of regular-season ending opponents.
After NC State, the Tar Heels travel to take on two conference opponents desperately needing late-season surges for NCAA consideration in Maryland (Sun.) and Georgia Tech (March 1); before they return home for the season finale with Duke (March 4).
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers remaining league schedule appears to round out a little easier at Miami, home versus Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, and at Wake Forest.
The Hokies (8-4) and the Eagles (9-4) also still have a shot at the top seed in the ACC Tournament. But with the tie-break edge via a 79-69 win over Virginia on Jan. 10, only North Carolina currently controls its own destiny.