RALEIGH, N.C. – The 10th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels bounced back from a road loss to Duke with a 97-73 victory over N.C. State, handing the Wolfpack its sixth straight loss, at PNC Arena Wednesday night.
The Tar Heels (22-5, 10-3) dominated up front, outrebounding the Wolfpack 41-25, which led to 23 more field goal attempts and a 27-13 advantage in second chance points.
The win keeps the Heels alone in first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) while the Wolfpack (14-13, 3-11) is solely in 14th place, only ahead of Boston College.
Carolina asserted its obvious size advantage down low, outscoring a mostly small-ball N.C. State lineup 60-22 in the paint.
“I thought we gave up too many rebounds,” N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried said.
“I think our bigs — Omer, Malik, Ted and BeeJay combined to get two defensive rebounds. I thought they just rebounded the ball, and I thought that was a big difference in the game.”
The Heels put together a balanced offensive performance with five players in double figures scoring, led by guard Joel Berry’s 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
Carolina forward Luke Maye scored a career-high 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
Kennedy Meeks had 17 points and eight rebounds while Justin Jackson added 14 points to assist in the frontcourt dominance.
“We feel really good right now, to say the least,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said.
“It’s one of those kinds of things where we thought we would have an advantage inside and we wanted to make that an important part of the game like we’ve tried to do all season.”
The Heels had their way in the first half, leading by as many as 17 points before the Pack cut the lead to six with 3:24 remaining, energizing many of the 19,500 in attendance.
Any hope State fans had of going to half in a close game quickly vanished as Carolina ended it on a 10-2 run to take a 51-37 lead at the break.
“Right at the end of the first half we got it down to six,” Gottfried said.
“[Then] Berry hit a three, Jackson hit a three — bang, bang. And they seemed to have an answer for everything we did.”
Wolfpack point guard Dennis Smith Jr. led all scorers with 27 points — his 12th 20-point game of the season.
The first half was the ‘Smith Show’ with DSJ scoring 17 of the Pack’s 37 points and bringing energy on both ends of the court.
Smith Jr. didn’t fare as well in the second half as the Pack attempted to climb back into it, scoring just three points in the first 16 minutes before the game was well in hand to UNC’s favor.
“It’s no excuse to lose any game, regardless of what’s going on,” Smith Jr. said.
“I want to win every game and it’s not happening. So I’m very disappointed.”
The two teams played evenly for the first few minutes of the second half, but ultimately Carolina’s advantage up front proved too much for State.
While the Wolfpack struggled like it has all season defensively, it didn’t do itself any favors on the offensive end, turning the ball over 17 times, leading to 23 UNC points.
Maverick Rowan (12 points) and Abdul-Malik Abu (10 points) were the only other N.C. State players who scored in double figures.
With the Pack’s season turning out worse than anyone could have envisioned, Gottfried’s future with the program is up in the air following numerous recent reports suggesting he will be let go at the end of the season.
When asked during the postgame press conference if he would like to “make his case” to Athletic Director Debbie Yow, Gottfried respectfully declined and said he wanted to focus on the game rather than his job status.