By Bret Strelow
RALEIGH ó The RBC Center crowd erupted when Courtney Fells caught an alley-oop pass with one hand and rattled the rim with an emphatic dunk.
North Carolina State’s fortune changed in a flash, and North Carolina’s improved even after the third-ranked Tar Heels collected an 84-70 victory against the Wolfpack on Wednesday night.
Fells’ jam gave N.C. State (15-11, 4-8 ACC) a 31-25 lead with 4:50 remaining in the first half, and UNC (25-2, 10-2) scored 31 of the next 38 points.
“Our biggest thing is dealing with adversity,” N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe said. “We haven’t been able to make a run back at them and stop theirs.
“We’re plagued in the second half. We start relaxing, and teams take advantage of that. We make careless passes under pressure. It was a mental breakdown.”
UNC forward Tyler Hansbrough had 32 points, 12 rebounds and five steals to lead the Tar Heels, who moved into a first-place tie because Duke suffered its second consecutive loss.
Gavin Grant scored 17 points for the Wolfpack, which allowed a 25-0 run and trailed 43-13 at halftime of its first meeting with UNC.
A 9-0 run covering the final 41/2 minutes of the first half Wednesday enabled the Tar Heels to claim a 34-31 edge. Wayne Ellington (21 points) drilled a 3-pointer with four seconds left before the break, and North Carolina scored on 11 of its first 12 second-half possessions.
UNC led 52-38 when Hansbrough passed out of a double-team to Alex Stepheson, who fed Marcus Ginyard for a dunk. Hansbrough made a steal on the next possession and raced ahead for a fastbreak dunk that capped a 16-2 run.
The Tar Heels, who lost in Raleigh a year ago, are 11-0 on the road this season. Only four ACC schools have winning road records, and Duke is the only league team other than North Carolina with more than five road victories.
“It’s a tough crowd, tough place to play,” Hansbrough said. “We’re satisfied with it.”
Hansbrough recorded the fifth 30-point outing of his career, and three have come in the last eight contests.
He has averaged 27.8 points and 13.3 rebounds during a six-game stretch played almost entirely without injured point guard Ty Lawson.
“Everybody talks about Tyler Hansbrough as a Player of the Year candidate,” Ginyard said. “A game like tonight is exactly why.
“He’s going to battle throughout the whole game. He’s going to get banged up, and he’s still going to finish. You just keep saying the same things over and over about him.”
That’s why UNC coach Roy Williams admires Hansbrough so much.
His production rarely dips.”Tyler Hansbrough is pretty doggone good,” Williams said. “He gives you the same thing every night, and that’s the best he can give you.”
N.C. State forwards J.J. Hickson, Ben McCauley, Brandon Costner and Tracy Smith spent time defending Hansbrough.
He missed a jumper from the top of the key and grabbed the offensive rebound near the free-throw line before drawing a foul with 15:25 remaining. He hit two free throws, and Lowe benched Hickson for the next 10 minutes.
Hansbrough, who scored 10 of UNC’s first 16 points after halftime, finished 11-for-19 from the field and 10-for-13 from the line.
“We were just letting him go where he wanted and do what he wanted,” Grant said. “He’s catching it at the 3-point line, driving and spinning, coming back, getting and-ones. You can’t win like that.”
The Wolfpack allowed an opposing player to score at least 30 points for the third time in the last four games ó Maryland’s James Gist had 30 on Feb. 9, and Boston College’s Tyrese Rice posted 32 five days later.
N.C. State led 46-37 at halftime of its 20-point loss to Duke in late January, and Maryland also beat the Wolfpack by an 84-70 score even though the Terrapins trailed 33-31 at the break.
“It just seems to be a team thing with us where we just can’t play the right way or play hard or play tough or physical or smart for 40 minutes,” Grant said. “We just give a half or 30 minutes.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Bret Strelow