UNC head coach Roy Williams has often criticized his team’s defense throughout this season, but on Wednesday the 10th ranked Tar Heels ran into an NC State team with issues that go much deeper.
All night long UNC was able to get anything it wanted at the rim, on the way to a 97-73 blowout victory over the Wolfpack at PNC Arena—the second major blowout against its hated rival this year.
Of the Tar Heels’ 97 points in the game, 60 came from inside the painted area. Kennedy Meeks led the charge with 17 points and eight rebounds, as UNC bullied the Wolfpack around on their own home floor without much resistance.
Senior forward Isaiah Hicks returned to the Tar Heel starting lineup after a one-game injury absence, but foul trouble again limited his impact—as he poured in seven points in just seven minutes of action.
In his place, sophomore Luke Maye put together arguably the most complete outing of his young career.
The native of Huntersville, North Carolina ended the night with a career-high 13 points while also grabbing seven rebounds. Freshman Tony Bradley—the fourth member of the Tar Heel frontcourt—made his presence felt as well, with eight points and five rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.
It may not have been as big of a win as January’s 51-point massacre for Williams and company, but it was certainly an impressive showing at the very least.
“It was one of those kinds of things where we thought we would have the advantage inside,” Williams said after the game. “And we wanted to make that an important part of the game, like we’ve tried do all season and haven’t done sometimes.
“Points in the paint, 60-22 [in favor of UNC], was huge,” he added.
Point guard Joel Berry did most of the perimeter work for the Tar Heels in the game, finishing with a team-high 18 points and six assists.
UNC’s leading scorer for the season, 6-foot-8 wing Justin Jackson, had an off-night shooting the ball, as it took him 16 shots just to score 14 points.
Luckily for Jackson, the Wolfpack were unable to keep the ball out of the post–so his contributions weren’t as necessary as they typically are.
“I shot the ball terrible, so for us to still beat them by  and I shot like that, that’s what we need,” Jackson said. “Theo [Pinson] came in and played a great game offensively and defensively, Luke played great and gave us a lot of good minutes. When everybody’s contributing, we’re that much better of a team.”
Just like the massacre at the Smith Center last month, the Tar Heels wasted no time opening up a big lead over the Wolfpack.
After nine minutes, UNC was already ahead by 17 points on Wednesday.
Freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. led a mini-rally at the beginning of the second half that closed NC State’s gap to just six points—but ultimately it would not be enough.
Smith scored 27 by himself, however he was unable to find enough help from the rest of his teammates to make this one competitive.
Whatever motivation the Wolfpack may have had to avenge the first blowout was quickly shot down right after the opening tip.
“The way we came out from the jump is really key,” Jackson said. “And then we really dominated them in the paint. They’re a little smaller than we are, so I think we did a good job.”
While UNC continues to hold serve in its spot atop the ACC standings, this loss marked the sixth consecutive defeat for the Wolfpack—who now find themselves on the door step of the league cellar.
NC State head coach Mark Gottfried was introduced amidst a loud chorus of boos Wednesday night, a sentiment that surely will only grow as his team continues to struggle.
Many Tar Heels—including Williams—were asked to comment on the Wolfpack’s sticky situation afterward, but nobody was able to put it into perspective from the UNC side quite like its own head coach.
As unfortunate as things are starting to become in Raleigh, it’s just not the Tar Heels’ problem to deal with.
“I feel for them,” Williams told reporters. “They’re going through some tough times right now.
“But my job is to try to win and do what’s best for North Carolina—and you’ve got to feel good about that.”
The Tar Heels return to the comforts of the Smith Center on Saturday night for a matchup against No. 14 Virginia. That game is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.
- UNC has scored 50 points in a half on five occasions in 2016-17, including three times against the Wolfpack (The Tar Heels ended Wednesday’s first half with 51 points).
- Theo Pinson scored 12 points in his first start of the season for UNC, in place of the injured Kenny Williams.
- Roy Williams improved to 32-3 all-time against the Wolfpack as a head coach, including a 27-3 mark at UNC.
- Former Tar Heel point guard Marcus Paige was in attendance, sitting behind the UNC bench.