CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Italee Lucas scored 19 points as No. 11 North Carolina blew nearly all of a 24-point lead in the second half before holding on to beat rival North Carolina State 83-76 on Friday night.
Chay Shegog scored 13 points for the Tar Heels (16-1, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who avenged last year's surprising home loss to the Wolfpack by pushing ahead by double figures late in the first half and holding on the rest of the way. North Carolina led by 16 at halftime and increased that margin to 62-38 early in the second half.
The only problem was the Tar Heels couldn't close out the scrappy Wolfpack (9-8, 1-2), who kept fighting and nearly came all the way back behind Marissa Kastanek. The sophomore scored a career-high 30 points and hit six 3-pointers, the last of which pulled N.C. State within five points with 17 seconds left.
This wasn't the strong finish that coach Sylvia Hatchell would've liked heading into Monday's home game against No. 2 Connecticut. The Tar Heels used an 11-0 run in the first half to take a 37-22 lead on Waltiea Rolle's stickback with 2:30 left, then pushed the lead to 24 points on Lucas' transition layup with about 13 minutes left.
And yet the Wolfpack seemed to inch closer with each passing minute the rest of the game.
Kastanek's fifth 3 cut the lead to 65-56 with about 8½ minutes left before the Tar Heels answered with six straight points to push the margin back to 15. N.C. State twice closed to within eight points in the final 4 minutes, then got a catch-and-shoot 3 from Kastanek to make it 81-76 with 17 seconds left.
The Wolfpack just couldn't complete that stunning comeback, falling for the 19th time in 22 meetings to its nearby rival.
N.C. State won't have to look far for reasons it fell so far behind. After scoring the game's first seven points, the Wolfpack went completely cold, missing 29 of 36 shots as the Tar Heels built their big lead. N.C. State finished the game shooting just 32 percent, with Amber White and Brittany Strachan combining for 10 points on 2-for-23 shooting.
The bigger Tar Heels also outrebounded the Wolfpack (47-40) and converted on their offensive rebounds. While the Wolfpack managed to take an 18-16 edge on the offensive glass, North Carolina had a 20-7 edge in second-chance points.
The game even featured a bit of rivalry spice late in the first half. As Lucas buried a 3 for a 42-25 less than a minute before the break, UNC's Jessica Breland pushed N.C. State freshman Breezy Williams to the floor. Williams then tried to grab Breland's leg as the fifth-year senior ran by, and both players soon were soon chest to chest and jawing at each other before being separated by teammates and officials.
Both players were issued technical fouls.