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February 20, 2008RALEIGH, N.C. - Just like last season, North Carolina brought a No. 3 ranking into the RBC Center. But this time, the Tar Heels also brought the game to back it up.
UNC got 32 points and 12 rebounds from Tyler Hansbrough as it cruised past rival N.C. State 84-70.
Hansbrough said he hadn't forgotten the feeling he had last season watching Wolfpack fans storm the court after a four-point upset victory.
"That moment last year was very disappointing," Hansbrough said. "We all felt like we played bad, and that was in the back of my mind."
A lack of defensive effort here in that game led UNC head coach Roy Williams to call his team "fat and happy" after allowing State to shoot 77 percent in the second half.
This time, though, the Tar Heels (25-2, 10-2 in the ACC) brought an even more intense defensive effort to the second half, building steadily on a slim halftime lead.
The Wolfpack (15-11, 4-8 in the ACC) shot 49 percent for the game but turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 21 points for North Carolina.
"It finally seems like we're getting more consistent turning up the pressure defensively and making teams react to us," said Marcus Ginyard, who chipped in 13 points.
Five of the Tar Heels nine steals in the game came from Hansbrough, who is averaging 27.8 points since UNC lost starting point guard Ty Lawson.
"He's pretty doggone good," Williams said. "You get the basketball to him and he's going to be able to make some plays. We had better spacing tonight, so he had a little more room to operate."
A 3-pointer from Wayne Ellington, who had 21 points, put UNC up 34-31 at the break.
Before that, it looked like State was the team in control when a nasty alley-oop slam by Courtney Fells gave the Wolfpack a six-point lead.
But Carolina answered by scoring the last nine points of the half.
In the second half, the Tar Heels started pressuring and trapping the Wolfpack's young point guards, and a 12-0 run resulted in an 18-point lead six minutes into the period. The advantage would grow as big as 20 points late in the game.
The turnaround from first to second half was no surprise to Williams, who urged his team before the game to "play with poise."
"We're always trying to get our kids to think about the next play," he said.
Just a few minutes into the second half, it looked like the Wolfpack couldn't score and couldn't slow down the Tar Heels, who shot 59.4 percent in the second half.
Carolina has now shot 50 percent or better for three games in a row.
"We got shots we wanted," said UNC point guard Quentin Thomas, who tied his career high with 10 points and had a turnover-free second half. "That really helped."
While in last year's loss here Williams criticized his team's lack of passion, the Tar Heels had plenty of it this time.
In fact, it was N.C. State that looked like its will was broken in the second half.
At one point, forward J.J. Hickson, who leads ACC freshmen in scoring and rebounding, didn't box out Hansbrough, allowing the UNC forward to snag an offensive rebound.
Disgusted with that lack of energy, State coach Sidney Lowe benched Hickson for the next 10 minutes and didn't return his big man to the lineup until there were less than six minutes to go in the game.
But Hickson wasn't alone in looking sluggish, with plenty of State players worn down by Carolina's energy and pressure.
"I think we were just excited that we were going to guard," Ellington said. "When we did that, we kind of took the air out of them. I think they kind of got fatigued and got slower and slower.
"A couple of games ago we weren't really doing that. Now we're playing Carolina basketball."