Comeback attempt falls short for N.C. State, which drops another at home to UNC

North Carolina NC State Basketball-4
1 of 3

North Carolina State's Torin Dorn, right, and North Carolina's Rechon Black, left, battle for a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

North Carolina NC State Basketball-2
North Carolina NC State Basketball

Sports Writer

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

RALEIGH — Somewhere, in an alternate universe, N.C. State wins its game Tuesday night against North Carolina, overcoming a 12-0 deficit in a nationally televised game in front an excellent home crowd, furthering its ascension up the polls and driving home its stake as the third elite team in the Triangle.

In this current, less eagletarian universe, though, the Wolfpack, which entered the game ranked No. 15 and enjoying its best start since 1973-74, did come back from down 12-0 to the Tar Heels, and did have a notable atmosphere behind them, but never mounted the defining run to take the lead, losing to North Carolina (12-3, 2-0 ACC), 90-82, on Tuesday, despite tying the game twice in the second half.

(Each of those game-tying baskets were answered by a 3-pointer from Cam Johnson, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds despite leaving the game early with a sore knee.)

It was the sixth loss in a row for N.C. State to UNC at PNC Arena, and while the 13-2 Wolfpack has so far proved itself a different basketball team than its modern iterations — they entered the night the betting favorite — it was the same story regarding the Tar Heels for the sixth year in a row.  

Indeed, Kevin Keatts hasn’t quite found the other universe yet. But he thinks his team is on the right track.

“Look, I’m a fighter. These guys are fighters,” he said. “It shows a lot about us and the program and the direction that we’re moving in that we refuse to lay down. They could have easily said, ‘You know what? This is not our night.’ I didn’t see any of it in those guys.”

The 12-0 run for UNC to begin the game was aided by eight missed shots to start the game by N.C. State. They were dug out of the hole by Braxton Beverly, who finished with 21 points and scored 10 of the first 15 for his team.

The Tar Heels entered halftime up, 47-42, despite N.C. State outscoring UNC’s bench, 35-0.

To start the second, the Wolfpack quickly tied it with a 3-pointer from Markell Johnson and a transition basket from Torin Dorn.

Then came the 3-pointer by Johnson. The same thing happened after the game was tied again at 53; the Wolfpack would pull within one point three more times, only to have the boulder again come toppling down the hill.

“It was crazy, because I almost never watch the scoreboard,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “Maybe I was watching, I guess, because I didn’t want to see a turnover. I thought we answered every challenge. They never got the lead. Every time they did made a run, we’d come back and answer it.”

Luke Maye was the leading scorer for UNC, finishing with 21 points to follow up his 30-point performance last year in PNC Arena. Coby White added 19 and Kenny Williams matched Johnson’s 15.

Beverly’s 21 led the Wolfpack, who went from down 12 to even to down eight at the final buzzer, all the while trying to flip a familiar script.

“I like where my team’s at. I like how we fought,” Keatts said, “I told our guys, if we clean up some things we have a chance to be a really good basketball team.”