RALEIGH — When NC State hosts UNC on Sunday afternoon at PNC Arena, the Wolfpack will be looking for payback for the Tar Heels’ 80-69 win in January when a hard foul to guard Terquavion Smith stoked the flames of the rivalry.
The biggest difference between this meeting and many of the previous encounters between the Tobacco Road rivals is that, for the first time since 2013, the Wolfpack will be the only ranked team in the building.
NC State is No. 23 in The Associated Press men’s basketball poll and had a NET ranking of 33 before its loss Tuesday night at Syracuse.
“These guys do all the heavy lifting,” said Kevin Keatts in his weekly ACC presser on Monday. “As coaches, we just try to put people in the right spots, but I’m happy for our guys. I’m happy for our guys in general, but when you look at the guys that were on last year’s roster, I’m really excited for them because they didn’t deserve [last year’s results].
“Getting to 10 wins in February and 20 overall wins, I think it’s special for those guys. Obviously we still have a lot of work and I don’t think anybody is satisfied just yet, but it was rewarding for those guys.”
The Wolfpack are coming off a 92-62 bounce-back win Saturday at Boston College, the third biggest road victory in team history, after having lost a tough game at Virginia last Tuesday.
“We made shots,” Keatts said on the turnaround at Boston College. “When you look back at the Virginia game, I thought we had some opportunities that we left on the rim. We missed a few layups, we missed some open shots. And when you’re playing against a great defensive team at home, you’ve gotta have every basket.
“I thought our guys bounced back. We just had to get focused and locked in, and we were going into the BC game playing against a very good team who had just won at Virginia Tech. So it didn’t take a lot for me to get them back focused because they knew how good BC could be.”
After being the preseason No. 1, UNC hasn’t been ranked since Week 8 and currently sits 46 in the NET rankings.
“In parts of our game, as a team, there is inconsistency,” said UNC coach Hubert Davis following Monday’s home loss to Miami. “There’s inconsistency in terms of shooting the ball from the outside, there’s 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. Those are things you just have to fix.”
Inconsistent shooting has plagued the Tar Heels all season, and it was again on display in UNC’s loss to Miami. The Tar Heels shot just 5 for 33 (15.2%) from beyond the arc and saw a one-point halftime deficit quickly stretched out.
“In the first half, we were able to get to the basket,” Davis said. “We tried to get the ball to Armando [Bacot] a little bit more in the first half, but it felt good because we were still attacking the basket and getting points in the paint. In the second half, we tried to do that, and they just did a better job of closing down that paint. The only way you could open that up is to make some perimeter jump shots, and we just weren’t able to do it.”
UNC enters Sunday’s game in Raleigh in need of the Quad 1 victory as the Heels flirt with the outskirts of an NCAA Tournament bid, and Davis said it all starts with shooting and effort.
“How do you respond or move forward?” 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. We weren’t good enough to beat Miami, it is what it is. So let’s go back to work and let’s see if we can get better this week and put ourselves in position to play against a really good NC State team on their home floor.”
For the Wolfpack, it’s a chance to not only exact revenge but also kick their bitter rivals while they’re down — and also stake their claim to being, for the first time in a long time, the state’s top team.