In a game featuring the ACC’s celler dwellers, UNC and N.C. State did not disappoint. Or maybe they did, depending on your vantage point. Regardless, the display on the court was almost blinding. Poor decisions, bobbles in ball-handling, bad passes and wild shots combined with questionable officiating set the stage for a rivalry contest the ACC likely now wishes wasn’t televised on ESPN.
N.C. State (14-12, 2-9 ACC) took an early 9-4 lead, but the Tar Heels (14-11, 3-7 ACC) utilized a 16-4 run to build a 33-24 margin. The Wolfpack closed the first half on a 7-0 spurt to cut the deficit to 33-31 at halftime, but that’s as close as they would get the rest of the afternoon.
A Leslie McDonald 3-pointer gave North Carolina a 56-46 lead midway through the second stanza, and the Tar Heels would eventually grow that lead to 74-58 before a last-second 3-pointer from C.J. Williams ended the day’s scoring.
Larry Drew led UNC with 15 points, while Deon Thompson (12 points, seven rebounds) and Dexter Strickland (11 points) also scored in double figures. Tracy Smith paced N.C. State with 20 points and Javier Gonzalez added 13 points, six assists and six turnovers.
North Carolina shot 41.7 percent (25-of-60) from the floor, narrowly topping the Wolfpack’s 41.1 percent (23-of-56) effort.
INSIDE THE GAME
Life without Ed
Towards the end of Roy Williams’ postgame press conference, a reporter asked the seventh-year UNC head coach if he was concerned when Thompson picked up his second foul barely two minutes into the game.
Williams responded with a question of his own.
“What do you think?”
He continued, saying, “I look over there and I’ve got more 6-9, 6-10, 7-foot guys in suits. I’ve got all of the dadgum coaching help I need. I need those guys out on the floor.”
When the news broke early Friday morning that Ed Davis, UNC’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, would be sidelined for the remainder of the season with a broken left wrist, it appeared as though N.C. State’s game plan would serve up unhealthy doses of leading scorer Tracy Smith down low.
And while Smith finished with 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting, UNC’s trio of Thompson, John Henson and David Wear performed admirably in defending the Pack’s primary scoring threat. The majority of North Carolina’s six blocks occurred against Smith in the paint.
Things got a little shaky with Thompson sidelined for nine minutes of the first half, as N.C. State scored seven points off seven offensive rebounds. But the senior forward returned to play 16 minutes after intermission, and the Wolfpack’s success on the boards vanished, grabbing only three offensive rebounds with no points to show for the work.
UNC, on the other hand, won the rebounding battle, 44-32, including a 17-10 advantage on the offensive glass.
“Losing Ed definitely hurts,” Thompson said. “Everyone has to do their part in this process that we’re going through.”
Saturday’s performance against N.C. State was a good start, but the real test arrives on Tuesday against Georgia Tech’s talented frontline of Gani Lawal, Derrick Favors and Zach Peacock.
The Benefit of Playing N.C. State
If Larry Drew could choose one team to play once a week this season, there’s no doubt N.C. State would be his first, second and third selection.
In two games against the Wolfpack in ’10, the sophomore point guard has totaled 33 points, 14 assists, three turnovers while connecting on 61.1 percent of his field goal attempts, including a 50.0 percent mark from 3-point territory. In Drew’s other eight games against ACC competition, he’s averaging 8.5 points, 5.8 assists, 3.6 turnovers and a 34.7 shooting percentage (24-of-69, 10-of-29 on 3s).
Drew’s first half of play on Saturday appeared to be heading in the latter direction, scoring just three points with three assists and two turnovers. But he ignited UNC’s offense after halftime with 12 points, four assists, no turnovers and a 5-of-5 shooting display.
“I just felt like I needed to pick it up after the first half,” Drew said. “I don’t feel like I was being aggressive enough offensively. I wasn’t attacking enough. I didn’t feel like I was doing my job, so I just let the game come to me.”
Williams highlighted Drew’s focus on slicing through N.C. State’s soft defense in creating scoring opportunities.
“You guys remember back when I first got here, even with Raymond [Felton], talking about, ‘Don’t forget your own penetration,’ because that’s part of the point guard spot,” Williams said. “Penetrate under control and throw the ball to the guys in the favored jerseys.”
Freshman forward John Henson is just four games into his experimental move to the 4-spot from his customary wing position, but his level of production has seemingly grown exponentially.
The lanky 6-foot-10, 190-pounder moved into Ed Davis’ starting role in the post on Saturday and delivered a standout performance, scoring nine points, grabbing eight rebounds, blocking three shots and corralling three steals. Add that stat line to his six-point, seven-rebound, four-block showing against Duke on Wednesday, and the evidence is readily available to suggest that he may have found his future position.
His senior counterpart on the block stands in agreement.
“I think it’s more natural for him,” Thompson said. “Keeping his length around the basket and he’s not asked to dribble so much on the perimeter and do those types of things, so it’s definitely a lot easier for him.”
Henson told reporters following the victory over N.C. State that the decision to play the 3-spot at UNC was a “mutual” decision between him and Roy Williams. But his head coach approached him prior to the Virginia Tech game about playing some minutes in the post, setting in motion his freshman revival.
“At the next level I’m going to have to play out there a little bit, inside and outside,” Henson said. “It was a good thing for me, a good experience for me. I’m not saying that I’m not going to be out there again, but with the team right now, I need to be down low. I’m pretty sure when everybody gets back, I’ll be out on the wing a little bit, too.”
As for the future, Henson’s not sure if his eventual position will be in the paint or not.
“I’m just playing day-to-day trying to get better,” Henson said. “Wherever I end up is where I’ll be.”