Tar Heels kick rival Pack when they’re down

With rumors swirling about the possible firing of the NC State basketball coach, North Carolina’s visit to Raleigh could have gone either way. Let’s just say it wasn’t a win-one-for-the-Gipper moment as the Tar Heels rolled to a 97-73 victory. As Carolina was streaking out to a 27-10 lead early, there were some boos from the restless Wolfpack fans. “We played well early and took the crowd out of it,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. But behind Dennis Smith, who finished with 27 points, the Wolfpack got back into it late in the first half, trailing by just six. But […]

With rumors swirling about the possible firing of the NC State basketball coach, North Carolina’s visit to Raleigh could have gone either way. Let’s just say it wasn’t a win-one-for-the-Gipper moment as the Tar Heels rolled to a 97-73 victory.

As Carolina was streaking out to a 27-10 lead early, there were some boos from the restless Wolfpack fans. “We played well early and took the crowd out of it,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.

But behind Dennis Smith, who finished with 27 points, the Wolfpack got back into it late in the first half, trailing by just six.

But a UNC 10-2 run, highlighted by a Luke Maye dunk and threes by Joel Berry and Justin Jackson, pushed the Heels out to a 14-point margin, 51-37, at the half.

“That little run right before the half was good for us,” Coach Williams said, adding that Maye was a big contributor, playing more minutes due to Isaiah Hicks’ foul trouble.

Maye, a sophomore, finished with a career-high 13 points and seven rebounds.

The inside men had their biggest production of the season with 60 points in the paint, including 27 second-chance points. It wasn’t just the big guys who did the damage in the paint either as Theo Pinson, Joel Berry and Justin Jackson got inside for buckets.

“Getting the ball inside and scoring was the biggest factor in the game,” Coach Williams said.

Five Tar Heels scored in double figures. Berry led the way with 18 points, while Kennedy Meeks followed with 17. Jackson, who was cold from outside, nevertheless managed 14 points. After Maye’s 13 points, Pinson scored 12 on a six of eight shooting night.

It was Pinson’s passing that got the Heels going to start the second half. A nifty assist to Hicks in the first minute set the tone for the second half. Carolina scored on three of its first four possessions of the second half and State never challenged again.

An 8-1 run midway through the second half moved the lead north of 20 points. A Maye three ball stared the run. Then Berry drained a three and followed that with a steal and a layup to put the Heels in command, 72-49.

The lead got as high as 29 late in the game before the Heels settled for a 24-point win.

For all the good news, the Tar Heels learned before the game that a knee injury to Kenny Williams at practice Tuesday will likely keep the sophomore sidelined the rest of the season. He had made 22 starts this season and was coming on as a reliable perimeter defender and outside scorer.

Coach Williams said Pinson, who himself was out with an injury early in the season, and Nate Britt must step up to make up for Williams’ absence.

NC State coach Mark Gottfried refused to discuss rumors that he would be fired at the end of the season. He said he only wanted to talk about the game.

“They answered everything and played better,” Gottfried said. “You have to give those guys credit.”

The Tar Heels move to 22-5 and 10-3 in the ACC, a game ahead of Florida State and Louisville, while the Wolfpack drops to 14-13 and 3-11.

Carolina tries to keep things going against Virginia at home Saturday night.

For a box score, video highlights and additional commentary on the game, please click here.