CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Larry Drew II had 15 points and North Carolina snapped its four-game losing streak by beating North Carolina State 74-61 on Saturday.
Deon Thompson added 12 points for the Tar Heels (14-11, 3-7 Atlantic Coast Conference), who gained some measure of relief with their first victory since beating the Wolfpack nearly three weeks ago. It was also their first home win since beating Virginia Tech more than a month ago.
But more importantly, the victory kept the defending national champions from doing something unthinkable in the preseason: falling into last place in the ACC standings with just a handful of games left to play.
Instead, that dishonor fell to N.C. State (14-12, 2-9), which lost its fourth straight game overall and its eighth in a row to the Tar Heels.
Tracy Smith scored 20 points to lead the Wolfpack and Javi Gonzalez added 13, but they got little help. Senior Dennis Horner, the team's second-leading scorer at 12 points per game, finished with two points and one rebound in 24 minutes.
As for the Tar Heels, they proved they are not quitting on a miserable season. They had lost eight of 10 games since the start of 2010, including Wednesday's 64-54 loss to rival Duke that ranked as their lowest scoring performance in seven seasons under coach Roy Williams.
Then came news that starter Ed Davis — the team's No. 2 scorer and top rebounder — might miss the rest of the season with a broken left wrist suffered against the Blue Devils. That pushed freshman John Henson, a lanky 6-foot-10 forward, into the starting lineup alongside Thompson up front.
Henson had looked lost after starting the season at small forward, but had played well in a loss at Virginia Tech and has shown progress since playing more at power forward. He came through with nine points, eight rebounds, three blocks and three steals in a season-high 26 minutes against N.C. State, and even soared into the paint to stuff home a missed shot by Thompson for the game's first basket.
It was Drew, however, who finished off the Wolfpack. The Tar Heels led by two at halftime and maintained control for the entire second half before Drew scored seven straight points that pushed North Carolina's lead to 66-54 with 2:05 left.
Drew finished with seven assists, while freshman Dexter Strickland added 11 points.
North Carolina shot 42 percent, but helped itself by taking a 44-32 rebounding advantage and converting 17 offensive boards into 17 second-chance points.
Before Saturday's game, the Tar Heels honored Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, the backcourt duo who helped the team win last year's national championship before entering the NBA draft as juniors. Their jerseys will hang among 38 that are honored, but not retired, in the Smith Center rafters.
The program also honored more than 200 former players — by name, no less — who returned to Chapel Hill this weekend and filed onto the court at halftime as part of the program's yearlong celebration of its centennial season. That ceremony ended with Dean Smith joining them at midcourt, with many players posing for pictures with the retired Hall of Fame coach.