Accordingly, the Wolfpack repeated the same pattern as their last game against Western Michigan: failing to put away a less talented opponent during a lackluster first half before asserting itself shortly after intermission and coasting to a comfortable victory.
Before No. 23 N.C. State’s eventual 89-68 win over the Spartans, the teams played a first half that saw seven ties and eight lead changes before the Wolfpack managed a seven-point advantage entering halftime. While the Wolfpack shot nearly 60 percent from the field and only committed five turnovers over the opening stanza, it was out-rebounded 18-13 by UNC-G, including eight Spartan offensive rebounds.
However, the Wolfpack (11-2) soon stepped on the gas. A Scott Wood 3-pointer with 18:21 remaining, one of his three for the game, gave N.C. State an 11-point lead that never fell below double-digits the rest of the way.
By the end, five Wolfpack players scored double-digits, led once again by C.J. Leslie. The Holly Springs junior finished with 21 points and 8 rebounds, including an open floor reverse dunk with 15 minutes left that sent the 12,207 at PNC Arena into early New Year’s hysterics. After a sluggish first half, Richard Howell finished with 11 points and 13 boards, his seventh double-double on the season.
UNC-G was led by 6-5 freshman forward Kayel Locke, the first recruit signed by first-year Spartans coach (and former Tar Heel) Wes Miller. Locke, a prep star from Owings Mill, Md., finished with 21 points, including 12 in the first half that helped the Spartans keep pace with the Pack.
When asked how much he knew about Locke prior to the game, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried gave a blunt answer.
“Not much, and we made him look like an All-American,” Gottfried said. “We didn’t do a very good job taking his left hand away. We just kept saying we’ve got to push him to the right, and we never did it. He played very well; he played inspired.”
Besides Leslie’s reverse jam, a couple of others dunks entertained fans and teammates alike. Scott Wood found rare air early in the first period, and Lorenzo Brown—who finished with 15 points and nine assists—elevated for a one-handed put back of a missed 3-pointer from Rodney Purvis.
Both dunks left Purvis bemused and amused.
“Lorenzo, his bounce comes and goes,” he said. “But I was happy he got that put back … I missed that shot on purpose, too [laughes].”
And about Wood’s jam?
“Scott dunks like an old man,” Purvis said with a chuckle.
At long last, N.C. State opens ACC play this Saturday at Boston College. The Wolfpack returns to PNC Arena next Wednesday, Jan. 9 to host Georgia Tech.
“We don’t have a choice,” Vaught responded. “We have to sell them.”
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke returns to action for the first time after an eight-day holiday break, and in their final game before a long string of ACC contests the No. 4 Blue Devils welcome a first-time opponent.
Duke will be a massive favorite. For the first time this season everybody who will play this season — except for Amber Henson, who has a longer-term injury — will see action.
Things end up pretty much according to form, as the Blue Devils win 73-32.
After N.C. State’s 80-63 win over Cleveland State on December 8, Vikings head coach Gary Waters expressed admiration for the Wolfpack’s transition attack but went out of his way to question their ability to execute a half-court offense.
“They get it out and they push it up and they attack you,” Waters observed. “The thing is, I don’t know how they would do if you just keep them in a half-court game. I think that’s what’s going to happen to them throughout the season. People are going to try to shut that down. They’re as good as anybody I've seen in the country getting in transition because they've got so many good finishers.”
Following Saturday’s 84-68 thrashing of Western Michigan (8-5), Broncos gaffer Steve Hawkins spoke to the handful of media who hadn't already scurried off to make deadline. When asked what makes No. 23 N.C. State (10-2) such a difficult team to play, his two-word answer was both simple and revealing: “Their players.”
Take a look around. For the first time this season, beat writers and columnists will describe North Carolina with words like "courageous," "poised" and "resolute."
Playing with enormous passion and buoyed by an energetic — and likely tired of their families — Smith Center crowd, the Tar Heels defeated No. 20 UNLV this afternoon 79-73. Carolina entered the game without stalwart junior Reggie Bullock, who sat out after suffering a concussion in practice. But P.J. Hairston, in his first career start, scored 15 points and ripped away four steals while senior Dexter Strickland led all scorers with 16 points.
UNC's defense facilitated the victory. Carolina held the Runnin' Rebels to 38 percent shooting in the first half, enabling the Tar Heels to open up a nine-point advantage at the break that they nursed to the finish line. UNLV found its shooting touch in the second half, knocking in 5-for-7 on threes, but Carolina thwarted some of the damage by forcing 17 turnovers. Star freshman Anthony Bennett shot just 6-for-16 en route to 15 points, although he did make an impression.
Following the game, Tar Heel players ran through the tunnel celebrating loudly. Roy Williams noted that, for the first time this season, his team felt a sense of satisfaction after a performance. They chose an opportune moment, because now the Heels boast a strong non-conference win and can turn their attention to the ACC schedule on an encouraging note. In next week's column I'll handicap their chances against their first few conference opponents.
The Heels take this week off and travel to Virginia next Sunday night. Click here to view the UNC/UNLV box score.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM—The biggest mistake that the Santa Clara Broncos men’s basketball team made Friday while prepping for their Saturday afternoon match against No. 1-ranked Duke? Practicing in the Dean Dome. (Hey, head coach Kerry Keating, if you want to curse your team, schedule a practice in your next opponent’s arch-rival’s gymnasium. That’s not how you win games.)
Aside from that, the 11-2 Broncos had a couple of things going for them. Broncos senior guard and all-time leading scorer Kevin “Microwave” Foster put up 29 points and Santa Clara’s big men were physical enough with Mason Plumlee to keep him at the foul line and keep him from making most continuation shots. With four minutes left in the first half, Santa Clara had a 45-41 lead over Duke. Then Seth Curry took over, the Blue Devils went on a 21-3 run and the Broncos keeled over.
Before Curry transferred to Duke he played at Liberty University, where he scored a career-high 35 points in a 2009 game against Virginia Military Institute. Today, he hit his Duke career high with 31 points on 12-for-18 shooting, and made four out of seven three-pointers. Throughout the game, Curry shot the ball with a deluxe touch and attacked the basket wisely, showing absolutely no signs of the shin injury that’s been plaguing him all season.
Next, an undefeated (12-0) Duke travels to Charlotte to play against Davidson on Jan. 2nd, where Curry will have less pressure to make up for an overwhelmed Mason Plumlee, but more pressure to perform in front of his home crowd. Check back here next week when I’ll be discussing the risks of Duke’s Plumlee dependency. For now, click here to check out the Duke/Santa Clara box score.
CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL UNC returns to action following its nine-day Christmas break, looking to stay on the winning track against a very familiar opponent.
It’s the schools’ 14th meeting including four in the previous four years all in Chapel Hill, and the Buccaneers have never pulled off the upset.
The Tar Heels’ regulars are all healthy after some challenges earlier in the month, and Erika Johnson — the 6-1 transfer wing from California — is making her first home start.
Things proceed pretty much as expected, as the Tar Heels roll to an 85-44 romp.
The 6-6 Blue Devils are taking on 9-3 Big East co-champion Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, the first football meeting between the two teams and the Blue Devils’ first bowl appearance since 1994. The Bearcats are in their fifth bowl game in the past six seasons.
Duke’s most recent bowl victory was way back in 1961, when Bill Murray’s club beat Arkansas 7-6 in the Cotton Bowl.
But David Cutcliffe clearly has the Blue Devils’ program headed in the right direction, and tonight on ESPN they’re in the only live televised football game in the country.
Cincinnati is coached tonight by interim mentor Steve Stripling, with Butch Jones having departed to become the new head coach at Tennessee. And the Bearcats come in as seven-point favorites.
Duke puts on a fantastic offensive show but still comes up short, turning the ball over four times to none for the winners as Cincinnati wins 48-34.
The Heels have faced three top-100 opponents and received a spanking from each. Their NCAA Tournament resume is so thin that they’d better write a very charming cover letter to the tournament selection committee.
They host their final non-conference opponent on Saturday afternoon. No. 20 UNLV will stroll into town with an impressive 11-1 record and an opportunity to win admirers on the East Coast. The Runnin’ Rebels defeated No. 1 Carolina last year in a major surprise, but they may be this weekend’s betting favorite (lines haven’t yet been released).
ESPN’s Andy Katz summed it up: “UNLV enters Saturday's game at North Carolina as the ranked team and the squad expected to win since it is more relevant nationally this season.”
And this UNC team doesn’t have Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Harrison Barnes or Kendall Marshall. And that UNLV squad didn’t have potential All-American Anthony Bennett, a sensational freshman who could become the top overall pick in this spring’s NBA draft.
Duke’s long-suffering football fans got an early holiday present when the Blue Devils were invited to Charlotte’s Belk Bowl, their first trip to a bowl game in 12 seasons.
On Thursday at 6:30 p.m. they’ll find out whether the gift is sugar plums or a big lump of coal.
The Bearcats, who will play under interim coach Steve Stripling since Butch Jones was hired to be the new coach at Tennessee, are listed as seven-point favorites in the contest to be shown on ESPN.