For the past eight years, the North Carolina men’s basketball team has been the hammer to N.C. State’s nail.
But though the Tar Heels have beaten their rivals from Raleigh nine straight times and 15 of the last 16, junior forward Tyler Zeller says he isn’t taking tonight’s game at the RBC Center lightly.
“It’s one of those things that N.C. State’s a great team,” Zeller said. “I think we’ve just got lucky in a few games and were able to pull them out in the end.”
Well, not exactly.
Last month, the Tar Heels walloped the Wolfpack by 20 points in Chapel Hill in a contest that’s outcome was never in doubt.
Of UNC’s 15 wins in the past eight years, only four have come by fewer than 10 points.
Despite the thrashing on Jan. 29, N.C. State has won two of its last three games, losing at Maryland, but pulling out a tough home victory against Clemson.
N.C. State will be without sophomore forward Richard Howell, who will miss tonight’s game with what coach Sidney Lowe said was “something like a concussion,” but UNC coach Roy Williams is expecting a closer contest this time around.
“I see a much more confident team, a team that looks like they’ve got a better smile, a better movement about them,” Williams said. “Everything seems to be so much more positive with them.”
The Wolfpack will also benefit from the services of freshman guard Ryan Harrow, who is second on the team in assists and is tied for third in points with 9.8 per game.
Harrow missed the game at the Smith Center due to illness, but tonight he will play against Kendall Marshall in a matchup of highly regarded freshman point guards.
“He’s a great scoring guard and he’s having a pretty good year,” Marshall said. “He’s definitely going to be a difference-maker. I’m looking forward to playing against him.”
Marshall and his teammates will also have to contend with a prolonged shooting slump that has stricken the team the past three games.
Though the Tar Heels have won each of these contests, they have not shot above 40 percent from the field since a loss at Duke on Feb. 9.
On Saturday, the Tar Heels posted UNC’s lowest scoring total in the Smith Center in a 48-46 victory against Boston College.
Despite his team making just 17 percent of its 3-pointers during this stretch, Williams seems to have faith in the old adage that “good shooters keep shooting.”
“I think we’re a good-shooting team, we just haven’t shot with the consistency that I’d like,” Williams said.
“We’re getting good shots; we’re just not making them … When it evens out we’re going to make a bunch of them.”
Regardless of how well they play, the Tar Heels will be confronted by a raucous RBC Center crowd that has seen the Wolfpack beat its biggest rival just twice since 2003.
Though Marshall had heard all about UNC’s rivalry with Duke before arriving on campus, teammates Zeller and forward John Henson told him the games at N.C. State were just as intense.
“They talked about how hype the games are at N.C. State, and I’m excited,” Marshall said. “A lot of great players, a lot of great programs, I’m just looking forward to playing in the game.”
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