Fast start, clutch shots help UNC hold off NC State 90-82

North Carolina State's Wyatt Walker (33) and North Carolina's Cameron Johnson (13) chase the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

North Carolina coach Roy Williams often says that he doesn’t check the scoreboard during games. In UNC’s 90-82 win at NC State on Tuesday, he broke his normal routine.

“It was crazy because I almost never watch the scoreboard,” Williams said, “but I was watching that board tonight because I didn’t want to see a turnover.”

The Tar Heels had 23 turnovers, many in the teeth of NC State’s press defense. The Wolfpack had 12 steals in the game, led by point guard Markell Johnson’s four and CJ Bryce’s three, allowing NC State to erase a blue wave by UNC that opened the game.

The Tar Heels took a raucous PNC Arena crowd out of the game at the opening tip, scoring the game’s first 12 points while State missed its first eight shots. The UNC lead reached 19-5 before the Wolfpack found their footing in the rivalry game.

“I thought we settled in,” coach Kevin Keatts said. “I always tell these guys that you aren’t always going to score the basketball, but rely on your defense to get back. When we got down early, I thought we locked in on defense better, and we started making shots.”

The offense was sparked by Braxton Beverly, who hit five of seven three-pointers for a career-high 21 points.

““He was amazing,” Torin Dorn said. “He shot the ball really well and gave us great energy. Anytime he does that, we have a chance to be successful.”

The comeback allowed State to cut the lead to 47-42 at the half. The Pack then scored the first five points of the second half to tie the score. State tied the score twice in the second half and cut the Tar Heel lead to one or two on four other occasions. Each time, however, UNC had a response, preventing the Wolfpack from ever taking the lead.

“I thought we answered every challenge and never gave up the lead,” Williams said. “Every time they went on a run, we’d come back and answer it.”

The Heels were led by a lopsided advantage in rebounding. In a matchup of the ACC’s top two teams in rebounding margin, UNC controlled the boards, 51-33. Three Tar Heels ended up with double-doubles—Luke Maye (21 points, 11 rebounds), Cameron Johnson (15 and 11) and Kenny Williams (15 and 10).

Both teams played long stretches without a key guard. In the first half, NC State junior Markell Johnson picked up his second foul and sat the final 10 minutes. His absence set the stage for Beverly’s heroics and contributed to a lopsided halftime stat line. NC State outscored the Tar Heels 35-0 in bench points in the first half, while the Tar Heel starters outscored the Wolfpack starting five 47-7.Johnson scored 11 points in the second half, including back-to-back dunks to lead an NC State run to close the gap.

For UNC, wing Cameron Johnson sat the final 12 minutes of the game after suffering cramps. His absence allowed some less-heralded Tar Heels to contribute to the win.

“After that, we tried to think which players were the best five defenders,” Williams said. “Brandon Robinson gave us a big three-pointer from the far corner. Then, he had a really nice shot on the baseline and missed, but I told him it was a real nice shot. I wanted Leaky Black in there to give us an extra ball handler as well.”

Black hit two second-half shots, including a short jumper when State had cut the lead to one.

The loss evened NC State’s ACC record at 1-1, 13-2 overall. UNC improved to 12-3, 2-0 in the ACC with a pair of road wins to start the schedule.