North Carolina State shook off a disappointing road trip to defeat arch-rival North Carolina, 77-69, Sunday afternoon in front of a raucous home crowd at PNC arena. The win was great all by itself. The home fans provided the cherry on the top by chanting N-I-T at the Tar Heels, who came into the game in the “Last Four Out” section of EPN’s bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s tournament breakdown.
It was a back-and-forth affair through the first 30 minutes of the contest. State hung in the game thanks to creating a lot of points off turnovers, to help negate an awful shooting game. Carolina was playing good defense and enjoying an edge at the free-throw line.
State opened a double-digit lead, as it converted nine straight shots. Jarkel Joiner led the charge, as he scored 29 points. He was backed by solid contributions from D.J. Burns with 18 points, while Casey Morsell and Terquavion Smith each added 12 points.
In the first half, State’s shot selection left a lot to be desired. But Joiner and Smith made sure that the Pack got better shots after intermission. Twelve of the team’s final 14 made baskets came from either Burns or Joiner.
Carolina still enjoyed a big advantage from the charity stripe, with 14 more free-throw attempts as the visitors. But in the first meeting between the two clubs, UNC shot 36-39 from the line. They got neither the attempts nor the makes this time around. In a matchup of two competitive teams, there should never be a three-to-one advantage in free throw attempts like Carolina enjoyed in the first game.
State attempted just 10 free throws in this game. Given how much of their offense goes thru D.J. Burns, who is a large, large man, it’s almost inconceivable how he never gets fouled while shooting a shot close to the bucket. Burns did not have a single free throw attempt in the game.
State this year is the better team, something that hasn’t been said too often since Jim Valvano was forced out. They’re so much better that despite a free-throw deficit of 14 (!!) they still won by eight points. Imagine how it would be if UNC was called for fouls.
The win came following a 1-2 road trip. In the first game, State had a very bad shooting night, helped by a strong defensive effort from Virginia, and they would up on the short end of a 63-50 score. Virginia aggressively double teamed Burns each time he caught the ball and State was unable to make them pay, as Joiner and Smith went a combined 9-34.
Next up was a 30-point blowout win over Boston College. All of the shots that didn’t fall versus Virginia were converted in this game, as State shot 55.2% from the field, including 15-30 from behind the arc. Joiner was tremendous, with 26 points 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals. Burns added a double-double, with 18 points and 10 rebound.
Before the road trip started conventional wisdom was that the first two games would likely be split, with what happened versus Syracuse ultimately defining how the trip went. It was a close game throughout but with Syracuse leading most of the way. State took a 3-point lead with just over three minutes to play but poor execution down the stretch did them in, as they lost, 75-72. They had a chance to tie the game on the final possession but failed to get off a shot in the final 13 seconds.
Still, any fan would have gladly taken a losing record on the road trip for a win against UNC. State is now 21-7 overall and 11-6 in the conference. They are a half game behind Clemson for fourth place and the double bye for the ACC tournament. There are three games remaining in the regular season for the Pack, with home games against Wake and Clemson and a trip to Duke to end the schedule.