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North Carolina State could not break recent history, so the Wolfpack will hope to duplicate a trend from earlier this season.
The 15th-ranked Wolfpack fell at home to No. 12 North Carolina, 90-82, Tuesday at PNC Arena. It was the sixth straight victory in Raleigh for the Tar Heels, who have won 11 of their last 12 road matchups against N.C. State.
North Carolina scored the first 12 points of the game with N.C. State not scoring until nearly four minutes elapsed. The Tar Heels opened up a 14-point advantage after seven minutes and the Wolfpack was in a perpetual chase mode throughout the remainder of the game, including on the two occasions that they managed to tie the contest and several others in which a basket would have tied it again or handed State a lead.
“I thought a lot of that was due to our slow start,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said about his team’s shooting woes. “What happens when you start the game slow and miss some shots because everybody is a competitor, is that they will try to bring us back by themselves.
“I thought we didn’t share the ball particularly well. We went into the game saying that we wanted to get as many touches as we can and spread out the shooters, but we didn’t do that. We didn’t move the ball enough.”
EARLY SEASON THRILLER
The Tar Heels never trailed. UNC hit big shot after big shot, with all five of its starters finishing in double-figures in scoring and three players posting double-doubles.
It would be easy to lament the madness of coming close when his team dug itself in a hole early, but Keatts was philosophical afterward when asked about his team’s attempted comeback.
“It means that we won’t lay down,” Keatts said of the Wolfpack coming close despite its early deficit. “These guys are fighters and it shows a lot about us, the program, and the direction that we are moving in. We refuse to just lay down.”
Braxton Beverly scored 21 points off the bench against UNC. The Wolfpack reserves scored 43 points overall, including 35 in the first half to keep the team within an arm’s length throughout.
“Our bench has been tremendous,” Keatts said. “I like my bench. These guys have given me tremendous effort every day, and they are fighting.”
The arena was full and the patrons were boisterous. There was a video with 3D graphics on the court prior to the player introductions. Throughout the contest, the atmosphere was a unique blend of college rivalry during the action with professional-style entertainment during breaks in play.
“We have some of the best fans in the country,” Beverly said. “It’s amazing to play in front of them. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the win, but we’ll move on from it. We knew we were right there. We just couldn’t get over that last little hump. It’s not a big tweak we have to make. We know we’re a really good team. We’ll just take this loss and learn from it.”
LOTS OF HOOPS LEFT
The rivalry matchup with the Tar Heels was odd in that it was only N.C. State’s second ACC game of the campaign and the first one at home.
That leaves the Pack with plenty of games remaining but no time to feel sorry for itself.
N.C. State, now 13-2 overall, suffered its other loss on the road at Wisconsin in November, but Keatts looks at the response over the course of the remaining nonconference portion of the schedule, including a home win over a top-10 Auburn team, as something that his team can draw on as it navigates forward in the turbulent ACC.
The Wolfpack won seven straight games after the loss to Wisconsin.
“We lost a tough game early in our season, and I’m a big streaks guy,” Keatts said. “We won seven in a row after we lost, and we talked about what do we do from now. We went to Wisconsin and lost a heartbreaker similar to that. You find out a lot about a team by how they bounce back.”
How will N.C. State bounce back another loss to its rival?
“We won’t be defined by one game,” Keatts declared. “I thought it was a good game, but the guys who came off the bench did a tremendous job. I wanted to bring Braxton Beverly off because I wanted him to see the game start and get into a flow.
“Give North Carolina a lot of credit — they did a great job tonight. I like where my team is, and I like the way we fought. I told our guys that if we clean up little things, we have a chance to be a really good basketball team.”
Rob McLamb of Inside Pack Sports has covered N.C. State athletics and recruiting since 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @RobMcLamb.