Uptempo Tar Heels snowball to historic rout of rival State

The final 51-point margin was the second-biggest in the 229 meetings between the teams, surpassed only by a 62-10 UNC win back in 1921

Bob Donnan—USA Today Sports
Jan 8

CHAPEL HILL — Roy Williams wasn’t talking about the winter weather that led to the postponement of Saturday’s game against NC State when he used the term “snowballed” on Sunday. As appropriate as the reference might have been, the North Carolina basketball coach was instead talking about the chain of events that took place once his Tar Heels and the Wolfpack finally made it onto the Smith Center court. It started with a defensive intensity UNC hasn’t displayed since its trip to Hawaii over the Thanksgiving break and gained momentum as a shower of wide open shots began falling like the snow that enveloped the Triangle 24 hours earlier. By the time Wolfpack star Dennis Smith Jr. picked up his third personal foul just 10 minutes into the game, the Tar Heels were off and running to a historic and unexpected 107-56 manhandling of their neighboring rival. “We’ve had some days that it was about as ugly as it can possibly be,” Williams said. “Then today it was awfully pretty at times.” Just one week earlier, Williams’ team was beaten in its ACC opener by Georgia Tech, a team picked to finish 14th out of 15 league teams. A few days later, State put on an overwhelming performance in a 26-point rout of 21st-ranked Virginia Tech. Those roles were dramatically reversed on Sunday, as UNC got 21 points from Justin Jackson, 19 from Joel Berry and scoring contributions from 11 different players on the way to the most points it has ever scored against the Wolfpack (12-4, 1-2 ACC). The final 51-point margin was the second-biggest in the 229 meetings between the teams, surpassed only by a 62-10 Tar Heel win back in 1921. And yet, according to Berry, those gaudy numbers were as much a reflection of his team’s effort on the defensive end as its offensive efficiency. While the early foul trouble was a contributing factor, UNC’s defense — led by Berry — limited State star Smith to 11 points, five rebounds and five assists with six turnovers one game after he became the second player in school history to record a triple double. Smith, playing in his first and likely last game against the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill was 4 for 11 from the floor. “We came out with great energy on the defensive end,” he said, referring to a start in which UNC forced five turnovers and held State to 2 of 11 shooting over the opening nine minutes while jumping out to an early 26-4 lead. “It sounds repetitive, but like I always say we’ve just got to continue to pick up on the defensive end and we can get better. ” One of the byproducts of that defensive intensity and the 26 turnovers it caused was an uptempo pace that allowed UNC (14-3, 2-1) to show off all its weapons — from Berry and Jackson combining to hit nine 3-pointers, to Isaiah Hicks’ dunks to any number of others’ scoring easily off transition. Even Theo Pinson got into the act in his first game back from a preseason foot injury. Although the junior guard didn’t score, missing all three of his field goal attempts, he did make an impact by contributing five rebounds and five assists in his 13 minutes of action. “We’ve done a better job in practice of getting up and down, trying to run and trying to score more in our primary offense and in our secondary,” Berry said. “We’ve got to continue to do that, because that’s our pace. If we continue that, it will be hard for teams to stop us in transition.” The Tar Heels scored 37 points off turnovers and outscored State 25-13 in fastbreak points while converting its “snowballing” momentum into a 20-0 run in the first half and another spurt of 22 unanswered points in the second. “I knew that if we played with the type of intensity we’re supposed to then we could do some big things,’ Jackson said. “Part of it was that we caught them kind of on a rough day offensively. With that combined with how high we played, it just turned out well for us.”