By not competing, Carolina committed the cardinal sin of UNC basketball Saturday night at N.C. State.

Whether underdog, undermanned or under intense pressure from a crazed crowd, the Tar Heels have rarely not been ready to fight from the opening tip.

They weren’t this time, perhaps thinking their sky blue uniforms would settle a red storm and be good enough against an opponent they had defeated 13 straight times and pretty much dominated for the last 20 years.

But that was then and this was now. And arrogant quotes in the preseason and silly dances in the runway before taking the court don’t automatically make them good enough against what is clearly a better team.

Carolina’s mantra under Roy Williams is transition basketball, but it was State that scored 20 fast break points in the first half compared to none for the visitors who were beaten badly at their own game.

It may have been the first time in the 100-year-old rivalry that the Wolfpack started better players at every position. Even the Tar Heels’ best hope foolishly fouled State’s C.J. Leslie  twice  in the first two minutes (although the second was probably a play-on that never should have been called).

Regardless, James Michael McAdoo did not return until 11 minutes remained in the first half and his team already down by 12 points. After his two free throws and a follow by Jackson Simmons finished an 8-0  spurt that whittled the deficit to four, State scored the next eight points and finished the first half on a 23-8 run that was wrought with dreadful defense and forced shots out of a chaotic Carolina offense with nothing coming easy against the determined Wolfpack.

Down 45-26 at the break, Williams actually thought his team could win the game – undoubtedly reasoning it could not play any worse. Before long the deficit was 28 points with such calamities as Dexter Strickland missing a wide open layup on a 5-on-4 break after State’s Rodney Purvis was lying on the floor with a sprained ankle.

“Carolina can’t get the shots to go down!” exclaimed Dick Vitale from the ESPN broadcast location. That’s because most of them were wild, horrible shots, babeeeee!

Freshman Marcus Paige was so undone from the pressure applied by State senior Lorenzo Brown that he missed his first eight tries badly and finally gave way to seldom-used transfer Luke Davis. Paige personified a basketball team that basically could not pass, catch, dribble or shoot – occupational hazards for the game it was attempting to play.

The eventual 91-83 defeat wasn’t the issue, since State figured to win anyway. When you lose four players to the first round of the NBA draft, you are automatically in a rebuilding mode since the only way to replace them would be with one-and-done high school stars who go to other schools.

But after almost 20 games, most teams have learned what they can and cannot do and try to stick with that. The late comeback upheld the Carolina tradition of never quitting no matter how badly they’re playing. But, truth is, State teams do let up when they have a big lead and, according to Coach Mark Gottfried, “got tired” in the second half.

So, with the outcome obviously decided, turnovers were easier to force and three-pointers began going down for the Tar Heels.
Suddenly, it was only a nine-point hole and State might have actually choked it away. But down 11,  Reggie Bullock’s wide-open trey from the top of the key hit back rim and Strickland fouled State sharpshooter Scott Wood after he drained his three-pointer falling into the Wolfpack bench. What could have been eight points with four minutes left was instead 15. Game over.

At the end, the only Nervous Nellies were those who bet on State to cover the 5 1/2-point spread. And P.J. Hairston, who got hot in the second half and finished with five three-pointers and 19 overall, could have ruined the night for those who thought they had a sure thing for 35 minutes. However, his last shot that would have made the final margin five points missed and even those wagerers went home happy if not fully satisfied by a blowout it looked to be earlier.

Williams snapped at the notion that his team might have learned something from the second half rally, acknowledging how things aren’t for real on both ends when the game is basically over. Back to .500 (3-3) in the ACC, the Tar Heels will face similarly insane venues at Miami on February 9, Duke on February 13 and Maryland on March 6, if not three other road trips beginning at Boston College Tuesday night. And there are also dates with State and Duke at home, which hasn’t exactly produced easy wins this season.

Ol’ Roy saw few redeeming qualities in the un-Carolina-like effort in Raleigh, saying it was a miserable night for everyone in a blue uniform and every coach in purple sneakers (the color he chose for the Coaches vs. Cancer footwear game for his buddy Ted Seagroves, who has pancreatic cancer).

The shoes are normally some variation of pink, but Williams was still seeing enough red when he boarded the bus back to Chapel Hill.


Image by Katie Bailey / DTH via