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The Daily Tar Heel

Curry Spurs Tar Heels To Win Against 'Pack

N.C. State wanted to make it ugly and succeeded. There the Wolfpack players were, bumping and grinding North Carolina on every inch of the Smith Center floor.

But the Tar Heels were ready to get physical.

Sparked by big efforts from football stars Ronald Curry and Julius Peppers, UNC knocked off the Wolfpack 76-63 Wednesday night.

The victory clinched at least a share of the ACC regular-season title for the Tar Heels, their first since 1995. UNC can secure the title outright if it beats Duke on Sunday.

"It definitely feels good that we're sharing the title," UNC center Brendan Haywood said. "But our goal is to win the title outright. We know our job isn't done, and we can't relax."

It was Curry who got the Tar Heels going Wednesday, leading them in scoring in the first half with 11 points.

He battled through flying bodies and basketballs -- the two teams combined for 18 fouls and 26 turnovers in the first half -- to hit all three of his field goals and all five of his foul shots.

"It was Ronald's day," said guard Joseph Forte, who finished with a game-high 27 points. "He was driving in the lane and scoring. We need him to be more aggressive."

Curry was just that. He and Peppers helped UNC (23-4, 13-2 in the ACC) close the first half with a 6-2 run that swung the game's momentum.

Curry drove the lane for a layup with 18 seconds left to put UNC ahead 32-27, and then he and Peppers trapped Archie Miller and forced a turnover on N.C. State's next possession. Forte turned the miscue into a dunk to send the Tar Heels into the locker room with a 34-27 lead.

"We trapped a lot in the first half, and that really helped us," said UNC coach Matt Doherty, who became the first coach in ACC history to win or share a conference title in his first season.

Curry kept things going early in the second half, banking in a desperation 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring to put UNC ahead 37-31. It was the team's only trey of the game.

After that, the game became a mess. The two teams were whistled for nine fouls, including technicals on N.C. State's Anthony Grundy and UNC's Jason Capel, in a two-minute stretch.

Enter Peppers. He put down a thunderous two-hand jam, converted a reverse layup and then assisted on a dunk by Haywood on consecutive possessions to give the Tar Heels a 48-38 lead.

It was part of a 12-4 run that blew the game open. UNC led by 16 with 9:49 to go, and N.C. State (13-14, 5-10) never cut the lead to fewer than 11.

A large reason why was the re-emergence of UNC's defense. The Tar Heels allowed Virginia to shoot 47 percent from the field Sunday but limited the Wolfpack to 37.3 percent.

Grundy, N.C. State's leading scorer, shot 5-for-15 for 12 points. UNC also forced 18 turnovers.

Haywood led the lockdown effort, blocking five shots to add to his UNC single-season record and changing countless other attempts.

"It's hard to estimate the impact of Brendan Haywood around the basket," N.C. State coach Herb Sendek said. "When you get it inside, even the ones he doesn't block, he has a special gift to alter. His presence is very formidable."

So was UNC's offense, which had wilted against Virginia's pressure defense three days before. UNC shot 57.1 percent from the floor and outscored the Wolfpack 19-8 from the foul line.

Haywood, Kris Lang and Jason Capel each made three field goals to help Forte, Curry and Peppers.

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It was a true team effort. The Tar Heels were down after losing two of their last three games, but they never considered themselves out.

Now, with the top seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament in their control, they consider themselves up.

"I think our heads are right," Doherty said. "Our team is together. If you didn't see that tonight, you weren't watching. I thought everybody was on the same page, and they just cared about winning."

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