RALEIGH – N.C. State was sick of hearing about it, sick of talking about it, and most of all, sick of feeling it.
After 13 straight losses to North Carolina, including three last season, the Wolfpack cured the sickness with the sweetest medicine it had ever tasted.
No. 18 N.C. State ended the streak by building a massive lead and withstanding a big run to top North Carolina, 91-83, on Saturday in a nationally-televised game at PNC Arena.
“This is a significant win for us right now,” N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried said. “Kind of where our program (has) been, we have to understand we have a long way to go, but you gotta take steps along the way. This was a good step for us.”
N.C. State (16-4, 5-2 ACC) had five players score in double figures and two, C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell, obtain double-doubles.
The Wolfpack led by as much as 28 points in the second half before North Carolina (13-6, 3-3) cut the lead to five with 28 seconds remaining in regulation.
N.C. State guard Scott Wood made two clutch free throws, however, and sealed North Carolina’s first loss to the Wolfpack since Feb. 3, 2007.
Even with the comeback, North Carolina coach Roy Williams was not interested in looking at the positives after the game.
“I don’t care about learning experiences,” Williams said. “... Learning experiences, that’s for babies. By God, you’ve got to play. We’ve had enough learning experiences.
“... I’m not into moral victories, guys, and I’m not into that pansy-kind of crap. We stunk.”
The night started poorly for North Carolina. James Michael McAdoo picked up his second foul fewer than two minutes into the game, which forced North Carolina to play without him for nearly seven minutes.
In his absence, N.C. State built a 12-point advantage.
“That’s what we wanted to go out there and do – we felt like they would have trouble guarding us down low,” said Howell, who scored 16 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. “It definitely worked to perfection.”
When McAdoo did return to the floor, the Tar Heels went on an 8-0 run to cut N.C. State’s lead to four – at which point the Wolfpack completely took control of the game.
Rodney Purvis hit a 3. Lesie slammed the ball home as he was fouled, then made the free throw.North Carolina hit a shot, but then Lorenzo Brown and Howell made layups.
Brown hit a pair of free throws, then Purvis dunked. T.J. Warren made two baskets from inside the paint.
In a blink, it was an 18-2 N.C. State run as the Wolfpack’s lead ballooned to 23 with the red-clad PNC Arena Crowd going wild all the while.
The teams went into halftime with the Wolfpack leading, 45-26. Most telling for the Tar Heels – always a run-first team under Williams – was that they were outscored, 20-0, in fast break points in the first 20 minutes.
“It was a butt-kicking, is what it was,” Williams said. “We didn’t get back on defense. We talked about it (Friday), we talked about it (Saturday) … I didn’t do a very good job of coaching to get our guys ready.”
Gradually, the Tar Heels cut into the lead after falling behind by 28. P.J. Hairston scored 12 of his team-high 19 points in the second half, while McAdoo (nine second-half points) and J.P. Tokoto (eight points) helped North Carolina come within reaching distance.
But the final run never came, and the Tar Heels’ dominance in the rivalry was ended.
“We’re trying to get good. We’re trying to climb the mountain, and you gotta turn it a little bit,” Gottfried said. “... For (Saturday), for one night, it does give us a step in the right direction.”
After meeting with the media following another loss to UNC last season, Scott Wood was asked by a reporter how it felt to never have beaten N.C. State’s biggest rival.
Wood asked if the reporter’s wife had cheated on him and said the losses to the Tar Heels hurt about as bad.
This time, there were no sad comparisons from Wood, only relief.
“I’m tired of hearing everything about it,” Wood said as he smiled and leaned his head back. “It feels good, but at the same time, it only counts for one.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com