With the Tar Heels holding a 91-76 lead, Bobby Frasor found a streaking Copeland for a punctuation mark of a dunk that never was with 1.9 seconds left. McCauley hammered the Winston-Salem, N.C. senior and Copeland jumped up in retaliation, pushing the Wolfpack forward.
The display reenergized the RBC Center crowd that was witnessing the 11th UNC victory in the last 12 games between these two rivals. Both players were issued technicals, and Roy Williams sent Copeland to the locker room before the final buzzer.
"I made a bad decision going over there and pushing him," Copeland said. "I shouldn't have done that… I was pumped up and made a bad decision."
McCauley told reporters following the game that it was "disrespectful" for North Carolina to attempt to run up the score. N.C. State head coach Sidney Lowe summed up the ordeal rather well in his postgame press conference, indicating that there are two schools of thought on the how the ending played out.
"One is that the game is over, so just run the time out and don't try to embarrass people," Lowe said. "But the other is there are guys who haven't played minutes and they want to get two points. The game is not over until the buzzer rings, so maybe you should just sprint back on defense and not give an easy layup to where you're surprised that he's going [and] now you've got to foul him."
The late-game shenanigans shielded what was a dominant Tar Heel offensive display against the Wolfpack, as UNC shot 56.5 percent (35-of-62) for the game, compared to N.C. State’s 41.8 percent (28-of-67).
North Carolina used a 13-0 spurt to build an early 21-11 lead.
Lowe had some success going with a big lineup in N.C. State's previous two games, shifting leading scorer Brandon Costner (13 points, six rebounds) to small forward and inserting Tracy Smith into the post alongside McCauley (five points, five rebounds). But while that move helped the Wolfpack grab eight offensive rebounds in the first half, it also added cement to an already slow N.C. State defense that ranked 11th in ACC play in field goal percentage defense (45.6).
North Carolina capitalized on that deficiency both in transition (12-3) and in the paint (26-4) in constructing a 43-31 lead at the break. The Tar Heels shot 56.3 percent (18-of-32) to the Wolfpack's 32.4 (12-of-37) in the first half.
"They outplayed us,” Lowe said. “Their bigs outplayed us. That's it. They were tough inside, scoring the ball inside."
Hansbrough had a significant role in his squad’s post dominance, connecting on 12 of his 17 field goal attempts and grabbing six rebounds in the victory. For the reigning national player of the year, it was his 70th-career 20-point game, tying him with Duke’s J.J. Redick for the most in ACC history, as well as his 118th game in double figures, tying him with Sam Perkins for North Carolina’s school record.
For the Poplar Bluff, Mo. native, Saturday could not have arrived fast enough after being held to eight points amidst foul trouble in UNC’s 80-77 win at Florida State on Wednesday.
"I was anxious to get back out," said Hansbrough, who also posted 32 points and 12 rebounds in Raleigh last season. "I've been excited about playing ever since the Florida State game was over."
North Carolina outscored N.C. State 46-16 in the post, as well as winning the rebounding battle, 39-30. Having success in the paint is a crucial part of Williams’ up-tempo offense.
"It's always important to us, and we've gotten away from that a couple of times recently," Williams said. "It's something that we've got to get the basketball in there… Early in the game, we were not getting it inside, but in the second half, I thought we did a much better job."
The Wolfpack connected on 14 of its 26 3-point attempts in its upset win over Miami on Tuesday, and continued that hot streak on Saturday, draining 11-of-26 from downtown. Courtney Fells (22 points) led the charge, drilling four 3-pointers and scoring 20 second-half points as N.C. State cut a 54-36 UNC lead to 71-63 with 7:33 remaining, but the Pack would never get any closer.
Ty Lawson scored 16 points for the Tar Heels, while Danny Green (14), Wayne Ellington (12) and Deon Thompson (10) joined him in double figures. Ed Davis added six points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes of action.
"It was a very good win for us on the road," Williams said. "We shoot over 50 percent for the game, and that's something that we haven't been doing recently."
North Carolina returns to action on Tuesday, hosting Maryland in Chapel Hill for an 8 p.m. tip.