Published January 26, 2012
North Carolina State's front line of C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell provided enough inside punch to make the Wolfpack offense one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's best. Seventh-ranked North Carolina's size and length took that away Thursday night.
Leslie and Howell combined for 17 points, though most of that came after the Tar Heels had built a big lead on the way to a 74-55 win. Leslie had nine on 3-for-12 shooting, while Howell had eight points but played just 16 minutes before fouling out with 8:38 left.
Afterward, first-year coach Mark Gottfried said it was the first time the team didn't show the poise to stay with the offense and grind out shots against North Carolina's tough defense. John Henson blocked five shots to lead the interior defense that allowed just 20 points in the paint.
"They denied our high post, which is where we want to get the ball because we feel like that's where we're best," senior C.J. Williams said. "It kind of took us out of what we really are capable of doing, and we have more options than just the high post. We have to be able to go to those more often."
Leslie and Howell were part of a starting lineup in which all five players were averaging between 11.9 and 13.3 points. The Wolfpack averaged 77 points and shot 48 percent coming in, but finished with a season lows in scoring and shooting percentage (36.8).
"We were not very sharp offensively," Gottfried said. "We've played against good defensive teams this year. So yes, they were very good and at the same time we were not very good. The combination of the two, here we are."
For North Carolina, Tyler Zeller had 21 points and a career-best 17 rebounds.
Reggie Bullock added 11 points in his first career start for the Tar Heels (17-3, 4-1), who had no trouble winning their 11th straight against their longtime rivals.
While N.C. State (15-6, 4-2) was off to its best start in the conference league in six years under Gottfried, the Tar Heels ended up making this game look like almost every other in the five years since the Wolfpack last beat them.
With its bigger front line dominating inside, North Carolina shot 48 percent and led by 31 points in the second half.
Scott Wood scored 11 points to lead the Wolfpack, whose only real highlight came when Lorenzo Brown banked in an 80-foot heave to beat the halftime horn.
By that point, however, the Tar Heels led by 14 points and were on the way to turning the entire second half into a crowd-pleasing romp.
It was North Carolina's first game since losing starting guard Dexter Strickland to a season-ending knee injury last week at Virginia Tech. The injury robbed the team of its backup point guard and best perimeter defender, meaning a different look for the Tar Heels by starting Bullock and giving freshman Stilman White more minutes behind point guard Kendall Marshall.
Bullock hit 4 of 9 shots, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range, and finished with five rebounds and three assists. White hit a 3-pointer with about 12 minutes left to send the home crowd into a roar and give North Carolina a 59-32 lead.
Harrison Barnes added 15 points for the Tar Heels, while Marshall had 11 assists.
N.C. State struggled to get easy baskets inside, managed only a single basket on the fast break and missed most of its jumpers in the first half and trailed 37-23 after Brown's fullcourt heave.
The Tar Heels had no such trouble. Zeller had a double-double by halftime with 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting and 12 rebounds. Barnes added nine points as the Tar Heels made 12 of 17 shots in the paint.