UNCs Williams: Secret to success against State not really a secret

Roy Williams has beaten rival NC State 31 times in 34 career meetings, including 26-3 since taking over the Tar Heels in 2003

Bob Donnan—USA Today Sports
UNC coach Roy Williams cheers his team on last season while Brandon Robinson and Luke Maye watch from the bench. Robinson and Maye will have to play bigger roles for the Tar Heels in 2017-18

Talk all you like about the intensity of the basketball rivalry between North Carolina and Duke. And there’s always plenty of talk about that this time of year. But as far as Roy Williams is concerned, there’s no team in the Triangle or anywhere else he enjoys beating more than the Tar Heels’ other blood rival, NC State. It’s a passion that dates all the way back to the early 1970s when Williams was a young assistant with a UNC program that struggled against the Wolfpack during its run as one of the nation’s best teams. Williams has since turned the tables on State by winning 31 of 34 career meetings as a head coach, including a 26-3 mark with the Tar Heels heading into tonight’s meeting at PNC Arena. The last time the teams met, in Chapel Hill on Jan. 8, UNC handed State a historic, weather-delayed 107-56 pounding. So what’s the secret to Williams’ success against his most bitter rival? According to the Hall of Fame coach, it’s not really a secret at all. “We’ve had good teams, that’s the secret right there,” Williams said. “I get enthused to play them, but I get enthused to play a lot of people and we don’t do as well.” Enthused might be putting it lightly. As junior wing Theo Pinson told GoHeels.com after that 51-point blowout earlier this season, Williams’ intensity always seems to get ratcheted up even higher than usual in the days leading up to a game against the Wolfpack.”He gets fired up every time we play them,” Pinson said. “There’s a certain spark he has when we play NC State. You can just tell by his voice. He wants our execution to be perfect because it’s NC State.” Williams’ Tar Heels came as close to perfection as possible, especially on defense, in their recent pounding of Wolfpack. Aided by early foul trouble to State star Dennis Smith Jr., UNC forced 26 turnovers, leading directly to 37 points. It also got a combined nine 3-pointers from Joel Berry and Justin Jackson while outscoring the Wolfpack 25-13 on fastbreak points — an edge that contributed to a 20-0 run in the first half and another 22-0 spurt in the second. That overwhelming performance, combined with the turmoil State has experienced lately both on and off the court, is the reason why the Tar Heels have been established as a solid double-digit road favorite tonight. Williams, however, isn’t as convinced that his team is in for another easy time against the Wolfpack. “The game here I had a great deal of respect for their team,” Williams said. “I had just watched them beat Virginia Tech easily after VT had beaten Duke. Everything went our way early and Dennis (Smith) getting in foul trouble early was a huge part of it. “Since then they’ve been a widely different team. In a couple of games they’ve really struggled. It’s hard to gauge. I’m sure Mark (Gottfried) feels it’s a lot harder to gauge than I do. State’s game against Virginia Tech and against Duke, they were just outstanding at that point. We realize that the game got out of hand here and they’ll be more enthused. They’ll be fired up and maybe make amends for some of the things that have happened.” Reports over the past few days that Gottfried will be replaced as State’s coach at the end of the season has only added to the Wolfpack’s incentive. Not that its rabid fans needed any more when it comes to a UNC team that has been a constant thorn in their side since Williams’ arrival in 2003. “I think they’ll be a little bit enthused,” the Tar Heels coach said of the PNC Arena crowd. “They look at us and think we can right a lot of bad nights and make some things not as bad.”