Wolfpack Feels At Home At Dean Dome
When it comes to the basketball series between NC State and North Carolina, homecourt advantage hasn't been much of an advantage for the Wolfpack.
It's been seven years since State has beaten the Tar Heels at PNC Arena, a streak of futility that was extended last month with 75-65 setback that remains UNC's most recent win. The Wolfpack's only two victories during that stretch have come at Smith Center.
That's good news for coach Kevin Keatts and his team, since that's where it will be on Tuesday when it meets up again with the sputtering Tar Heels in a critical late season game that could go a long way toward determining its NCAA tournament fate.
"I thought the Carolina game here was one of our worst games that we played," Keatts said earlier this week. "I don’t know if it was because of the pressure of playing Carolina with everybody putting so much around it, but I will say this -- every team in our league has that one game they wish they could have back.
"That was the game we didn’t play well. I don’t know if it’s so much as whether we play them there or here, we just didn’t play well."
State (17-10, 8-8 ACC) got off to a fast start in the first meeting of the season back on Jan. 27, scoring the game's first seven points. But that's when the Tar Heels began asserting themselves inside, with the duo of Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot doing most of the damage.
Brooks scored 25 points and both big men picked up 11 rebounds a apiece, as UNC dominated the offensive boards while helping their team to a plus-11 overall rebounding margin.
The Wolfpack didn't help its cause by going 4 of 20 from 3-point range, misfiring on 10 of its 11 attempts in the second half. Leading scorer C.J. Bryce was held scoreless in the game, going 0 for 8 from beyond the arc.
"We started off the game well, we did some good things and then as the game went along we fell apart a little bit," Keatts said. "I thought they pressed us and trapped us a couple times early in the game. That kind of changed the game for them."
Keatts is hoping that things will be different with the change of scenery. It would also help for someone on his team to get hot -- the way Allerik Freeman did the last time State won in Chapel Hill.
On that night, Freeman wasn't just good, he was nearly perfect -- going 7 for 7 on 3-pointers while scoring 29 points to lead a 95-91 overtime victory.
It's a game both coaches remember well.
"I thought Al Freeman was great in that game," Keatts said. "We played well over there. We did. I don’t know what it is. But if we’re going to have a chance to win this game at Carolina, we’ve got to play a lot better than we played here."
UNC's Roy Williams' memory of that game in 2018 isn't quite as happy.
"Other than Allerik going crazy on us, I can't remember much about that game," Williams said. "Generally when I was younger I remembered every loss. They’re running together so much this year because we've had so many more of them, but I know that both of those (State wins), one with Mark (Gottfried) and one with Coach (Kevin) Keatts, I don't like that part of it, to say the least, but I know Allerik, again, he was just off the charts good.
State’s other recent victory in Chapel Hill was a 58-46 decision in 2015.
Although UNC is currently in the midst of a seven-game losing streak and is 3-13 in the ACC (10-17 overall), Keatts warns that the Tar Heels are still a dangerous opponent given all the close games they've lost and their history against State.
And while the Smith Center has a reputation for being a benign venue, Wolfpack forward D.J. Funderburk said it's a deceptively tough place to play -- although he said that at this time of year, given what's at stake, the location of the game doesn't matter.
"I think almost all our games, away or at home, the intensity level is there," Funderburk said. "The passion is there and everything is there. it's all the same. But as far as envrionment, the Dean Dome is probably one of the craziest in our conference.