CHAPEL HILL – Its finish belied an atrocious first half, but it was not sufficient to avoid a familiar result for N.C. State.
The Wolfpack quickly fell behind by double digits, and despite an effective second half, stayed there the rest of the game in a 84-70 loss to North Carolina on Saturday at the Dean E. Smith Center, where N.C. State has not won since 2003.
“My first thought would be that in the first half, North Carolina was very good, and offensively, we were very bad,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “You have to give those guys credit. I thought they defended us well, but I thought we didn’t react to it well, either.”
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for N.C. State (14-8, 4-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), while North Carolina (14-7, 4-4) won its fourth in five games since starting its league schedule with three straight losses.
Saturday, the Tar Heels won by creating a big advantage and sticking with it. North Carolina opened the game by scoring 18 of the opening 22 points and led by double digits for the final 34 minutes.
Though the Tar Heels were far from their best in the first half, they took a 40-23 into halftime in part because of a poor offensive showing by N.C. State. The Wolfpack shot 25 percent from the floor as a team in the opening 20 minutes.
“Sometimes when you have a young team, maybe they drop their heads a little bit and start to get unsure, so it just kind of steamrolled there in the first half,” Gottfried said.
T.J. Warren and Anthony Barber excepted, the rest of the Wolfpack accounted for nine points and shot 3-for-21 from the field in the first half.
“We caught State on a day where they didn’t make a bunch of their shots,” said North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who was displeased with the way his team shot the ball. “At one point in the first half, I leaned over to our staff and said, ‘The only people shooting the ball worse then we are is them.’”
In an effort to come back, Gottfried elected to play a smaller lineup without center Jordan Vandenberg or forward BeeJay Anya. The two played only a combined 16 minutes.
The lineup move worked from an offensive perspective – N.C. State shot 65 percent as a team in the second half compared to 39 percent for North Carolina.
N.C. State cut a 20-point deficit to 13 with just fewer than 12 minutes to play only for the Tar Heels to push the lead back to 21 shortly thereafter. N.C. State kept at it, though, and it eventually trimmed the lead all the way down to 10 with 1:30 to play.
North Carolina made two free throws on the next possession, however, and with so little time remaining, N.C. State’s 11th straight loss in Chapel Hill was secured.
“I thought in the second half we came out and really competed hard and played well,” Gottfried said. “We shot a great percentage from the field and did some things really well. Unfortunately, we had dug ourselves too big of a hole.”
The Tar Heels had not been expecting the Wolfpack’s lineup that did not include a center.
“I think that was an adjustment they wanted to make after they saw the success they had driving the basketball,” North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige said. “It’s not something they’ve done a lot when we watched the tape, but they needed something to get going. Their guards were getting in the paint a lot in the second half.”
Warren was high-scoring again, putting in 21 points on 9-for-16 shooting. Desmond Lee scored all of his 18 points in the second half for N.C. State.
James Michael McAdoo had a double-double for North Carolina, scoring 16 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, while Kennedy Meeks came a basket away from his own, scoring eight points to add to 10 rebounds.
Leslie McDonald scored 20 to lead North Carolina.
In part because of the Wolfpack’s move to a smaller unit, North Carolina was able to control the glass. In all, the Tar Heels outrebounded the Wolfpack, 52-36.
“I think we were a little rattled (when N.C. State made the change), but when we picked it back up on defense, we were all right,” Meeks said.
Even though the Wolfpack clearly was the more aggressive team in the final 20 minutes, North Carolina took solace in the fact that it did not play all that well and still won comfortably.
“It’s a little bit of a positive to look at it and say, hey, we played pretty poorly in the second half – they played better, but we also played poorly – and still won with a sizable lead,” Paige said. “That’s something you can take and say, hey, if we put 40 minutes together, we’ll be scary.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or firstname.lastname@example.org