North Carolina’s wins in January have followed the pattern of a slow start and strong finish.
The Tar Heels used a different formula against NC State on Saturday.
Forwards Armando Bacot and Day’Ron Sharpe helped UNC put together a complete game in an 86-76 home win over the Wolfpack.
The Heels (10-5, 5-3 ACC) improved 5-1 this month but this was only the second time in those six games they led at the half. UNC shot a season-best 54.4 percent (37 of 68) and scored a season-high in points.
NC State (6-5, 2-4 ACC), playing for the first time since Jan. 13, had no answer for UNC’s size, even with Manny Bates’ return from an ankle injury.
Bacot scored 17 points, and had an emphatic block of a Bates dunk attempt in the second half while Sharpe added 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Senior guard Devon Daniels led the Wolfpack with 21 points for NC State and Bates added 10 points and seven blocks in 30 minutes, after missing the FSU loss with an ankle injury.
Twice in the second half, NC State was able to get as close as six points. A 3-pointer from Braxton Beverly and then another from Daniels, at 3:54, cut UNC’s margin to 75-69.
Then UNC scored the next four points, a pair of free throws by Caleb Love and a layup by Anthony Harris, to stretch its lead back to 79-69.
UNC shot 57 percent in the first half and used a 10-2 run at the end of the half to build a 43-33 lead at the break. It was the Heels’ largest halftime lead of the season. A 67-65 win at Miami on Jan. 5 was the only other game in January that UNC led at the break.
“The last 3 or 4 minutes of the first half, it kind of got away from us,” NC State coach Kevin Keatts said.
While the Heels are starting to hit their stride, with wins in 5 of its past 6 games, the Wolfpack is still trying to find its footing.
The Wolfpack had its two previous ACC games postponed due to COVID-19 issues in the program. It was the second time this season that NC State had to take a break for COVID protocols.
“Pauses hurt,” Keatts said. “Coaches, we love to have control, but we cannot control what happens with this virus.”
Freshman guard Shakeel Moore was the star of NC State’s 79-76 win over UNC on Dec. 22 with 17 points and a memorable second-half dunk. Moore didn’t score and only took one shot in 4 minutes.
Love, UNC’s freshman guard who struggled in the first meeting with NC State, had 15 points and five assists.
NC State has dropped four straight games since a 2-0 ACC start.