No. 12 UNC starts hot, fends off No. 15 NC State, 90-82

RALEIGH, N.C. -- There was a feeling in the pregame Tuesday night that things may be changing in this rivalry. Gone are the days of Roy Williams' largely effortless dominance. Maybe it was the split last year, a dash of it was the 13-1 start for the Wolfpack this season, and a whole bunch of it was the "Kevin Keatts is a winner" vibe that has engulfed Raleigh.

No. 15 N.C. State even unveiled a new full-court projection system before the game, just one more element aimed at making PNC even more inhospitable for visitors than it already is.

All that was for naught. Any sea change between these two rivals was put on hold for another year as No. 12 North Carolina started strong, handled every Wolfpack charge and looked every bit the seasoned winners that they are for a 90-82 win.

Seniors Luke Maye and Cam Johnson were largely excellent, combining for 51 points, 32 rebounds, and 10 assists.

"It shows we're tough," Maye said.

It was hard to tell whether State was not ready or perhaps too ready to start this game and grab a long-absent home win against the Heels. Whatever the explanation, it was 12-0 UNC (12-3, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), in a hurry as the Pack bricked its first eight shots.

The signature element of Keatts' teams so far though is their fight. Rather than curling up and calling it a night - they clawed back into the game. Braxton Beverly, DJ Funderburk, and Jericole Hellems stood out.

Down five at halftime, the Pack twice drew even in the second half. PNC was pulsating. That's where Carolina drew the line. The Heels never relinquished the lead.

North Carolina State's Torin Dorn, right, drives against North Carolina's Luke Maye (32) during the first half in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday.

At times this year, the Tar Heels have looked jittery, easily shaken. Not against the Pack. There's an understanding with Williams' team when matched against the Pack in Raleigh. They don't wilt. They rise.

The Tar Heels went 6-for-6 at the line in the final 32.1 seconds to seal the win, their sixth straight in Raleigh. UNC also won despite playing the last 12-plus minutes without leading scorer Cameron Johnson, who exited with leg cramps.

"I'll be completely fine," Johnson said. "It's just I couldn't get them to calm down."

We saw that with Coby White's relentless 19 points. We watched Leaky Black, hardly an accomplished outside shooter, step fluidly into a straightaway J with UNC only up a single point deep into the second half. We witnessed a defensive stretch that turned a one-point lead into an eight-point comfort zone in crunch time. Carolina kept State scoreless for nearly five minutes. That effectively won the game.

Braxton Beverly scored 21 points to lead N.C. State (13-2, 1-1), which had won seven straight games.

"Just small things: little mental errors, mental lapses, little details," said Wolfpack senior Torin Dorn, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. "In any game in the ACC, any rivalry game like that, you've got to outscrap teams and you have to be able to make those plays."

The Tar Heels had built momentum since losing to Kentucky on Dec. 22, beating Davidson and Harvard before winning their league opener at Pittsburgh - all by 20 or more points.

It wasn't always pretty Tuesday night, most notably with the Tar Heels committing 23 turnovers that led to 20 points for the Wolfpack. But UNC kept coming up with a response every time N.C. State made a push.

More than a month had passed since the Wolfpack's lone loss at Wisconsin, with N.C. State beating then-No. 7 Auburn and entering the AP poll for the first time since January 2013. That run included last week's win at Miami in the ACC opener, which pushed the Wolfpack to the program's best start since the 1973-74 season, which ended with an NCAA championship.

But a bad start put N.C. State in catch-up mode early and the Wolfpack never could string enough shots together to grab a lead and ride the momentum of a rowdy home crowd.

"You'll find out a lot about a team with how they bounce back," N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said.

The loss snapped the Wolfpack's 12-game home winning streak.

"I told our team at the end of the game in the locker room: when you score 82 points, that's enough to win the game," Keatts said. "We've got to do a better job of cleaning up some of the mistakes that we made."

The Tar Heels host Louisville on Saturday. Pittsburgh visits the Wolfpack on Saturday.

North Carolina, which was taking on a ranked opponent for the fifth time, is 10-1 this season when reaching the 80-point mark.

"We've been there," said senior Kenny Williams, who had his first career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. "Teams have went on runs against us. So we're not strangers to it. It's not uncharted territory. We're all composed, we've got three seniors who have been through the ringer."

North Carolina has won 14 of its 16 road assignments against the Wolfpack under coach Roy Williams.

Dorn, as game a competitor as you'll find, will end his career without a win vs the Heels at home. Maye and Williams won't ever know losing at PNC. Things are looking up in Raleigh, but we got another reminder Tuesday night that Roy Williams is still the big brother in this relationship.

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