North Carolina has been blessed with a deep roster, while rival North Carolina State has struggled to find healthy bodies. This time, that depth disparity even extended to the coaching staffs.
The fifth-ranked Tar Heels beat N.C. State 83-64 on Wednesday night behind a career-high 24 points from Brandan Wright in a game Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe left early because of illness.
Missing a coach "can have an effect on a team, but we tried to wear them down," Wright said. "Their big guys were in foul trouble, and that was the key to the game."
Tyler Hansbrough added 20 points for the Tar Heels (24-4, 10-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), who used a huge second-half run to avenge an upset loss earlier this month and move into first place in the league standings.
"We know what we have to do, and we know what we want to do," guard Danny Green said. "If we do what we're supposed to do and handle our business, everything should fall into place."
A North Carolina roster that went 12 players deep proved too much for the fatigued Wolfpack (14-12, 4-9), who have played with a short bench all season. Five players logged at least 30 minutes in this one.
"We just trapped and pressured (Wolfpack point guard Engin Atsur) until he got tired, and when he got tired, we went in for the kill, just trapped everything, denied passes," guard Ty Lawson said. "He's not as good as when he's walking the ball up the court, so we just pushed him the whole way."
Lowe, who for several days had been suffering from flulike symptoms, was taken to a hospital at halftime with dehydration. Assistant Monte Towe ran the team in the second half.
"With Coach Lowe not being there in the second half, it affected all of us, and we did not play as well as we needed to to win the game," Towe said.
Brandon Costner scored 18 points before fouling out with about 2 minutes left for N.C. State. Atsur had 16 points and Gavin Grant added 14 for the Wolfpack.
But without Lowe _ the first-year coach whose bright red jacket was a tribute to his coach at N.C. State, Jim Valvano _ they couldn't conjure up another upset of the Tar Heels. Lowe had coached N.C. State to an 83-79 victory over North Carolina on Feb. 3 in Raleigh.
The revenge-minded Tar Heels all but decided this one early in the second half, using a 23-9 run to take control and badgering the Wolfpack into 9-of-22 shooting in the final 20 minutes. N.C. State was 13 of 17 shooting in the second half of its previous meeting with the Tar Heels.
"The biggest thing that we didn't do (in that game) that we did tonight was defend like we did in the second half tonight," Wright said. "We forced them to take a lot of bad shots."
Wright started the decisive run when his layup with about 16 minutes left made it 47-45, Lawson's 3-pointer from the top of the key pushed the lead into double figures for good and Green's 3 about 1 1/2 minutes later capped the run and made it 68-54. N.C. State didn't get closer than 11 the rest of the way.
"You crash the floor, you get offensive rebounds, it's definitely easier," Wright said. "Guys were finding me when they were playing a zone, and (the career-high points) really did just come in the flow of the offense. I don't feel like I forced anything."
The Wolfpack came out determined to build upon their 81-56 victory over Virginia Tech three days earlier in which they shot a season-high 67 percent, and for a while it looked as if they might be headed for a repeat.
N.C. State made eight straight shots during a particularly dizzying stretch midway through the first half. Most of those weren't easy ones, either _ including three 3-pointers, the last by Costner to put the Wolfpack up 28-22 just past the 9-minute mark.
"We just screwed up and gave them so many open looks in the first half, and they made a bunch of them," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
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