N.C, State coach Kevin Keatts said it would be a “heart and soul” kind of game Sunday against North Carolina, and that it was.
But what did you expect? The No. 23 Wolfpack wanted to win, badly. The Tar Heels wanted it, badly.
The two teams played it that way at PNC Arena before the Pack emerged with a 77-69 victory that should enhance its NCAA chances — and could damage UNC’s.
With Jarkel Joiner scoring 29 points and D.J. Burns 18, the Wolfpack (21-7, 11-6 ACC) made amends for a loss to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill and had Pack fans serenading UNC with chants of “NIT” at the end.
Caleb Love had 20 points and Armando Bacot 16 for UNC (16-11, 8-8).
It was punch and counter-punch from the two rivals down the stretch.
The Pack got in some big ones — a layup by Burns after Bacot tripped, a driving layup through traffic by Joiner and then a Joiner 3 that gave the Wolfpack a 67-60 lead with 4:44 remaining and had PNC Arena as loud as it has been in years for Wolfpack basketball.
UNC coach Hubert Davis called a timeout at that point. The noise level didn’t drop much and Joiner didn’t stop, hitting another jumper for a 69-60 lead.
With UNC needing a basket, anything, Bacot scored on a putback and drew a fourth foul on Burns. After his 3-point play, the Heels went to a trapping fullcourt press.
The Pack’s Ernest Ross had an opening against the press but missed a dunk with 3:06 remaining. But Joiner didn’t miss a dunk a few moments later and a Casey Morsell basket after a UNC miss made 75-63 with 1:29 left.
The Pack had balanced scoriing, getting from 12 each from Terquavion Smith and Morsell.
The Heels came to Raleigh with an NCAA resume that needed enhancing. UNC was 0-9 against Quad-1 teams, one barometer to how the NCAA committee gauges tournament selections.
With 11:36 left in the game and UNC leading 49-46, the Heels’ Pete Nance and Smith appeared to bump on the UNC end of the court. Smith went down in pain and then left the game as the three referees huddled to watch replays.
It wasn’t a repeat of Smith’s big fall in the game in Chapel Hill, when he was fouled by Black on a drive and later taken to a hospital. Smith was out briefly Sunday before coming back into the game.
The Heels spurted to a 54-48 lead, squeezing out a little separation, but the Pack answered with two baskets by Joiner and then a 3 from Jack Clark for a 55-54 lead with 7:50 left in regulation. Clark was hopping up and down after that one as Pack fans thundered.
Both teams spent a lot of time in the first half trying to adjust to the officiating – or barking at the refs.
The Heels’ Love drained a late 3-pointer, fell backward after the shot and motioned to a referee that a foul should have been called. It was: a technical on Love, allowing Joiner to make two free throws.
After a quick early pace in the first five minutes, both the Pack and Heels tightened up defensively, moving well, fighting around screens, contesting shots.
Neither team shot well from 3-point range in the half – UNC going 2-for-10 and the Pack 3-for-11 as Smith and Joiner were 0-5.
Keatts said before the game that double-teaming Bacot was an option. He used in the first half while also having the Pack more aggressively contest entry passes to the big man.
Burns spent the last 8:33 of the first on the bench after picking up a second foul. Early in the first half, Burns and Bacot fought for a loose ball near the sideline, Bacot giving him a rough shove out of bounds.