Cameron Johnson jumped the passing lane and got a hand on the ball. He sprinted after the deflection, landing in the crowd. He couldn’t save the ball, but the play forced N.C. State into a short shot clock, and C.J. Bryce missed a rushed jumper.
It wasn’t glamorous, but it was exactly the type of play that won the North Carolina men's basketball team a 113-96 victory against N.C. State (16-7, 4-6 ACC) on Tuesday night. In a game where everything went UNC’s (18-4, 8-1 ACC) way, there were plenty of highlight-reel plays. Take your pick: whether it was UNC crossing the 100-point, biscuit threshold with more than 5 minutes remaining, a Nassir Little dunk, or one of Luke Maye’s numerous and-ones, there's a lot to choose from.
Yet, those plays aren’t what gave the Tar Heels the edge. One loose ball, one tip out, one second jump at a time, UNC squeezed the life out of N.C. State.
“I feel like we were just energetic and we were just trying to beat them to the loose balls,” said Garrison Brooks, who finished with 10 rebounds and six assists to go with eight points. “Those 50/50 balls is what dictates games.”
The Wolfpack entered the night desperately needing a win. They had lost three of their last four games, including an embarrassing 47-24 showing against No. 11 Virginia Tech Saturday. UNC on the other hand, had just impressed against No. 16 Louisville on the road. Add in the rivalry factor, and this game had all the makings of a trap for the Tar Heels.