RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) For the second straight year, Marcus Paige looked at ease in North Carolina State's hostile arena.
The preseason all-American scored a season-high 23 points and went 5-for-5 from 3-point range to help No. 15 North Carolina beat the rival Wolfpack 81-79 on Wednesday night.
Paige finished with nine assists and no turnovers for the Tar Heels (13-4, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who barely held off a late comeback to beat the Wolfpack for the 17th time in 18 meetings.
''Honestly, it's a fun environment,'' Paige said. ''It's kind of like an us-against-the-world mentality when we come in here. And that's a fun way to play.''
Kennedy Meeks added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Tar Heels, who led by 11 near the 4-minute mark before N.C. State (12-6, 3-2) twice rallied to within a point in the final seconds.
Paige hit two free throws with 1 second to go for an 81-78 lead, but N.C. State got one more chance when Abdul-Malik Abu was fouled on a long inbounds pass with two-tenths of a second left. Abu made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, but fellow freshman Cody Martin's tip in traffic didn't drop as the horn sounded.
UNC shot 56 percent, but cooled late and went the final 4:38 without a basket.
The game was a rematch of an overtime classic from last February, won when Paige scored with 0.9 seconds left in overtime to cap a 35-point night in the 85-84 win.
Paige is battling a foot injury that has limited his practice time and was shooting just 37 percent, but had his second 20-point game this season.
''I'd like for him to be 6-3, 220, but he's not that,'' UNC coach Roy Williams said. ''What he is is 165 pounds to 175 - and most of it's heart.''
Ralston Turner scored 20 points to lead N.C. State, and leading scorer Trevor Lacey finished with 19 but shot just 4-for-13 while facing constant defensive attention from J.P. Tokoto.
N.C. State came in after a weekend upset of unbeaten Duke, but couldn't beat the other ranked rival from just down the road.
''I didn't think in the first half we had the movement, the quickness,'' Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. ''We just seemed to be going slow motion in my mind. The second half we came out and played basketball. ... But we didn't do it for 40 minutes. We did it for 20 minutes.''
UNC: Reserve sophomore Isaiah Hicks scored a career-high 12 points. ... UNC was without freshman point guard Joel Berry II due to a groin injury that will keep him out a few weeks. ... Williams improved to 23-2 against N.C. State as UNC's coach.
N.C. State: This was N.C. State's third straight game against a ranked opponent, starting with a loss at unbeaten Virginia. ... Kyle Washington matched his career high with 17 points. ... N.C. State shot 52 percent after trailing 32-26 at halftime.
LACEY VS. TOKOTO
Tokoto's defense on Lacey was a big factor.
Lacey was averaging a team-high 16.9 points, but didn't manage his first basket until nearly 15 minutes in.
''Get in him, make him uncomfortable,'' Tokoto said of his strategy. ''That was No. 1 for me. And secondly when he went up into his shot, get a hand up in his face and make it tough for him to see the basket.''
Most of Lacey's production came from a 10-for-10 effort at the foul line.
''I feel like I still got my looks,'' Lacey said. ''I just didn't hit them. He played good D. They were there on every shot. I feel like that's how teams have been guarding me all year.''
PLAYING IT CLOSE
The Tar Heels have played three straight games decided by two or fewer points for the first time since January 1976. UNC lost 71-70 at home to Notre Dame, then beat Louisville 72-71 on Paige's late layup on Saturday before wininng Wednesday.
UNC hosts Virginia Tech on Sunday.
N.C. State travels to Florida State on Saturday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap