UNC-NC State Preview: Tar Heels Shoot for Sweep of Rival Wolfpack

Carolina has won 18 of NC State’s last 20 visits to the Smith Center, and generally owned the rivalry with a 37-6 record in these teams’ previous 43 meetings.

“I think probably the biggest difference in NC State now than when we played them earlier in the conference season is they’re playing bigger now. They’ve got a big lineup. And so for them, they’re athletic, they’re long, they’re big. It allows them to be even better defensively, rebounding the basketball, attacking the basket. … They throw a number of different defenses at you to try to create steals or to speed you up. For us offensively, we can’t allow whatever defense they play, however they play it, to decide and dictate how we play and how efficient we are at the offensive end.” — UNC coach Hubert Davis on Friday

“Just to see how the last four minutes went. I mean, it kind of gave me flashbacks to how Baylor was a little bit (in the 2022 NCAA Tournament), just in terms of how much we were up and we could have extended the lead, and we had some slip-ups. … I think that film study was good for us because it allows us to grow and allows us to see where we were making mistakes, so that when it happens in March, we don’t make those mistakes again.” — UNC guard RJ Davis on Friday, discussing the Tar Heels’ review of their wobbly finish in Monday night’s victory against Miami.

Final Saturday Home Game: Carolina will play its last Saturday home game of the season this weekend when rival NC State visits the Smith Center. UNC has two of its last three games at home, hosting Notre Dame next in Tuesday night’s home finale, before playing at Duke in the March 9 regular-season finale. The Tar Heels are 12-1 at home this season, while the Wolfpack is 4-5 on the road.

UNC controls its own destiny atop the ACC standings, sitting in sole possession of first place with a 14-3 conference record. The Tar Heels are one game ahead of second-place Duke (13-4 ACC) and 2½ games ahead of third-place Virginia (12-6 ACC). The Tar Heels already have clinched at least a No. 2 seed and a double bye in this month’s ACC Tournament.

RJ Davis’ Blistering Bounce Back: RJ Davis, the ACC’s leading scorer, shot a season-worst 1-for-14 from the field (7.1 percent) in Carolina’s 54-44 win last weekend at Virginia. Davis was hounded by UVa guard Reece Beekman, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, that day at John Paul Jones Arena. That rough outing marked the first time since his sophomore season that he was held to one made field goal or less.

The standout senior Davis responded by breaking the Smith Center scoring record, erupting for a career-best 42 points in Carolina’s 75-71 defeat of Miami. Davis racked up 21 points by halftime, and poured in another 21 points during the second half. He connected on a career-high seven 3-pointers, burying four straight from long range in an explosive span of 3:12 later in the second half. He produced 15 of UNC’s final 17 points against the Hurricanes.

Davis’ outburst moved him into a tie with Brad Daugherty for 10th place on UNC’s all-time scoring list with 1,912 career points. Davis accounted for 56 percent of UNC’s 75 points against Miami, the highest percentage by one Tar Heel player since George Glamack accounted for 59.2 percent of Carolina’s scoring in a February 1941 game.

Looking at NC State: Much has changed for NC State and seventh-year coach Kevin Keatts since these two teams met 52 days ago at PNC Arena, and UNC won 67-54. Entering that Jan. 10 matchup, Carolina and NC State were unbeaten early on in ACC league play. Since then, NC State has trended in the wrong direction.

The Wolfpack has lost seven of its last 11 games and sits in a three-way tie for seventh place in the ACC standings, with Pittsburgh and Florida State. NC State has dropped games to Virginia Tech (84-78), Virginia (59-53), Pitt (67-64), Wake Forest (83-79) and lost twice to Syracuse during its current slide. The Wolfpack is coming off a 90-83 road loss Tuesday night at Florida State.

All three of NC State’s losses in non-conference play (Ole Miss, BYU and Tennessee) were to teams currently ranked or previously ranked in the AP Top 25. The Wolfpack’s lone victory over a high-major opponent in the non-conference portion came against Vanderbilt (84-78). NC State’s non-conference slate ranked No. 320 nationally per Ken Pomeroy’s college basketball database, the second-worst mark in the ACC behind only Pitt (No. 339).

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