When North Carolina visits No. 23 North Carolina State for a Sunday afternoon game, there’s no doubt it’s a big game for both teams in Raleigh, N.C.
The rivals have hit pivotal points with their postseason credentials under serious scrutiny. Pressure could be mounting, particularly on the Tar Heels (16-10, 8-7 Atlantic Coast Conference).
“I wouldn’t say that,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “You get back up and go to work and compete and put yourself in a position to be able to compete to the best of your ability in the next game.”
North Carolina has lost four of its last five games, a startling tumble for a team that began the season with the No. 1 ranking in the country. The Tar Heels took an 80-72 home loss to No. 15 Miami on Monday.
NC State (20-7, 10-6) is beginning a stretch of three consecutive home games. The Wolfpack are 13-1 in home games.
Yet the Wolfpack are 1-2 since entering the national rankings, defeating Boston College in between losses at then-No. 8 Virginia and Syracuse as part of a three-game road stretch.
“We’ve just got to learn from it, move on and shake it off,” NC State coach Kevin Keatts said.
North Carolina can’t seem to shake the shooting doldrums. The Tar Heels are last in the ACC in 3-point shooting at 30.6 percent.
“We can try some different personnel,” Davis said, “but at the end of the day, we’re just going to have to be able to make some shots.
“There’s inconsistency in terms of obviously shooting the ball from the outside. There have been inconsistencies in terms of staying on script and doing the discipline and the details, the little things that allow you to put yourself in a position to be successful.”
The Tar Heels are intent on alleviating the pressure on North Carolina forward Armando Bacot, who has been a focal point of opposing defenses.
“There’s a number of things that we can do,” Davis said. “That’s something that I’m going to look at and have to tweak and pivot and alter and change.”
In the first meeting this season against the Wolfpack, an 80-69 North Carolina win on Jan. 21 in Chapel Hill, N.C., Bacot became North Carolina’s career leader in rebounds and double-doubles. He logged 23 points and 18 rebounds, giving him 61 double-doubles and raising his rebound total to 1,221, two more than Tyler Hansbrough had for the Tar Heels.
NC State guard Terquavion Smith was taken off the court on a stretcher during that game after a foul by North Carolina’s Leaky Black. The officials assessed Black with a Flagrant 2 foul and ejected him from the game, but Keatts said a few days later that he identified no bad intentions on Black’s part.
North Carolina connected on 36 of 39 free throws in that game. The Wolfpack went 12-for-12 on free throws in the game, but the gap in the number of attempts was a topic of frustration from the NC State side.
Wolfpack senior guard Jarkel Joiner, who scored 18 points against the Tar Heels, enters the rematch coming off the fifth triple-double in program history. He logged 15 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists against Syracuse in NC State’s 75-72 loss on Tuesday.
“He’s playing like a senior,” Keatts said. “He’s playing with leadership and even though he had a triple-double, we don’t even talk about his defense.”
In the past 41 matchups between the Tar Heels and the Wolfpack dating back to January 2004, North Carolina has a 36-5 record.
–Field Level Media