Loss to N.C. State leaves UNC in need of better effort
P.J. Hairston fumbled a pass from North Carolina teammate Reggie Bullock four minutes into the second half of Saturday night’s game against N.C. State at PNC Arena. As Hairston reached down to get it, Wolfpack freshman T.J. Warren dove to the ground and swatted the ball off of Hairston and out of bounds.
Warren, a Durham native, didn’t get credit for a steal on the stat sheet. But the hustle play illustrated why N.C. State was able to beat its rival for the first time in six seasons.
“We had a loose ball at the centerline and we’re reaching down to pick it up and T.J. Warren comes from behind and dives in there and gets the ball,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “That was the game the way I looked at it from my viewpoint.”
Though No. 18 N.C. State (16-4, 5-2 ACC) may have the edge in talent and experience, Williams and his players said the 91-83 loss came down to things like preparation, urgency and hard work.
“When the ball is tipped up, you have to want it more than the other team does,” Tar Heels sophomore James Michael McAdoo said. “It doesn’t matter if they have 20,000 fans or nobody’s watching. If there’s a scoreboard and they’re keeping score, we have to be ready to play and take pride in everything we do.”
The difference in effort and execution was glaringly apparent in transition offense, a part of the game that UNC (13-6, 3-3) normally excels in. The Wolfpack outscored the Tar Heels 20-0 on fast-break points in the first half.
“It was a butt-kicking is what it was,” Williams said. “We wanted to emphasize sprinting back on defense – that’s the thing we talked about yesterday, talked about today – and (in) first half they had 20 first-half points (on fast breaks) and we had zero.”
UNC guard Dexter Strickland said the disparity in transition points came down to being in the wrong position and not communicating on the court.
“We just have to learn from it and move on,” Strickland said.
Warren, who leads the ACC in field-goal percentage (64.6), shot 9 of 12 and scored 19 points as the Wolfpack improved to 12-0 at home with wins over Duke and UNC. Besides breaking a 13-game losing streak against the Tar Heels, N.C. State has now beaten both its Triangle rivals for the first time in 10 years.
The loss broke a three-game winning streak for UNC, which dug out of an 0-2 hole in conference play but is now 1-4 on the road against major-conference opponents.
“We made some progress but we have to be able to go into someone else’s place and play well,” Williams said. “You have to go in there and focus and have some toughness.”
Williams also said that it’s too far into the season to call the N.C. State loss a valuable learning experience for his young squad.
“Learning experiences, that’s for babies,” Williams said. “By God, we gotta play. We’ve had enough learning experiences. You gotta play.”
The Tar Heels did fight back in the end, scoring 50 points in the final 13:14 and cutting a 28-point deficit to five with 28 seconds left, but N.C. State made its final six free throws to stay in front.
The situation was similar to UNC’s loss to Butler, when the Tar Heels sliced a 29-point second-half deficit to six before losing.
“I guess you can say in both games we fought hard at the wrong time,” Hairston said. “If we fought the entire game, played aggressive the entire game, this would have been a great game and we could have easily won. We came out slow and State came out the aggressor.”