Jimmy DuPree: Wolfpack is climbing the mountain

Jan. 26, 2013 @ 11:12 PM

RALEIGH — Two weeks ago, N.C. State was a program that hadn’t had many signature wins against its closest rivals in recent years.

Now the Wolfpack has two.

N.C. State’s 91-83 victory over North Carolina ended the Tar Heels’ 13-game winning streak in the series, a string that wasn’t lost on anyone in red.

In fact, N.C. State’s most recent triumph over UNC was on Feb. 3, 2007, in Raleigh by an 83-79 margin during Sydney Lowe’s first season.

“It’s big, especially for the fans,” N.C. State senior Scott Wood said after finishing with 12 points, including nine in the second half to help seal the win. “Somebody said I was in middle school the last time we beat them.

“We’ve got to continue to work hard. It’s big for our program, but at the same time, we’ve got to get the next one.”

It had been 14 days since the Wolfpack handed then-No. 1 Duke its first loss, an 84-76 thumping that set off a wild celebration at PNC Arena.

Maybe it was the Tar Heels’ second-half rally from a 28-point deficit that made the postgame scene more muted Saturday night. Then again, maybe it’s a sign that the Pack is more confidant.

“I definitely didn’t come in thinking that we were going to lose to them,” N.C. State senior Richard Howell said. “We didn’t come here, to the ACC, to be second. We were coming to be better than Duke and North Carolina. We came to win it all. We feel like we have the team to do it.

“This is definitely a bigger win (than Duke), especially when you’ve been here four years and you haven’t beaten a team and they’re constantly kicking your (butt), it’s definitely a good win.”

The Pack’s veterans carried a bulk of the load, with junior point guard Lorenzo Brown leading the way with 20 points and 11 assists and Howell scoring 16 and grabbing 14 rebounds.

Yet it was freshman T.J. Warren, a Durham native, who came off the bench to provide a spark with 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting. He and classmate Rodney Purvis, thus, are unbeaten against Duke and UNC.

“It feels great to get my first Carolina win,” Warren said. “To be able to beat Duke and Carolina my first year, it’s a good feeling for us, the program.

“Everybody was loud, everybody was supportive — I’m proud of the Wolfpack nation for that. I feel like this sets the tone; you can see the excitement now.”

Warren and Howell admitted that they were exhausted in the second half when their big lead disappeared. But had learned from Tuesday night’s 86-84 loss at Wake Forest.

“I feel it was all about effort and intensity and energy,” Howell said of the loss to Wake Forest. “I’m definitely not making excuses. We know that we’ve got to come out a lot better than that. That’s one of the reasons that we were so anxious to get on the court today, why we’re so anxious to get on the practice court tomorrow.

“This is definitely another momentum booster, especially coming off a loss to Wake Forest.”

Howell had no doubt about who had been troubled the most by the losing streak against UNC.

“The coaching staff; they hear it all the time,” Howell said. “I feel like they were more tired of hearing it than the players. ... We wanted to get that done for them.”

Second-year coach Mark Gottfried, now 1-3 against the Tar Heels, didn’t want to put too much emphasis on the win. He also didn’t shy away from trying to put it in perspective.

“I don’t know about a cultural significance,” Gottfried said. “I just know that our program has lost a lot of games to North Carolina. ... They are good and have been good; we’re trying to get good. We’re trying to climb up the mountain.

“At some point, you’ve got to turn it a little bit and this is a start. Now, I understand that doesn’t guarantee anything in the future. But for tonight, for this one night, it does give us a step in the right direction because they have been terrific, and they were terrific tonight.”

For now, N.C. State stands in second place in the ACC with 11 league games remaining. That’s plenty of time to make a move up — or down.

“It’s definitely a big win,” Howell said. “But like I said, we’re not satisfied. We let some games get away from us, like the Wake Forest game. If we come out and play like that again, it’s going to be the same result.

“If we don’t come out like we came out today, it’s going to be trouble.”

And if they do, it’s trouble for any team they’re facing.

You may contact Jimmy DuPree at jdupree@heraldsun.com or 919-419-6674.