North Carolina, in the presence of sophomore James Worthy and freshman Sam Perkins, showed last night there is no substitute for quality big men. North Carolina State's were bigger, but the Tar Heels' were better in the 69-54 first-round victory in the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament.
The Tar Heels' third victory in as many games over State this season sends them into tonight's 9:30 Capital Centre semifinal against a Wake Forest team (22-5) that had beaten UNC (23-7) twice in three games this season and possesses the personnel to defend it better inside.
For a half last night, State stayed close; it handled UNC's double-teaming traps, outrebounded UNC, 25-11, and watched the Tar Heels miss seven of 12 free throws. In the second half, Carolina successfully played more straight-up defense and burned State repeatedly inside.
As much as the 6-foot-9 Perkins (22 points, seven rebounds) and the 6-9 Worthy (eight points, five assists, four rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot) were big factors inside, guards Jimmy Black and Mike Pepper put on the outside defensive pressure that bewildered State. The Wolfpack shot only 29.6 from the field in the second half.
In the first half, after which State trailed 31-28 (the margin of UNC's first two victories), Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg each had three assists in 13 State baskets. In the second half, they had only one in the entire 20 minutes.
Art Jones was State's leading scorer with 14 points and had eight rebounds. But he had only four points in the second half when Al Wood often guarded him man to man.
With the defense playing better, the rebounding even and the foul shooting improved, Pepper forced the Wolfpack (14-13) out of its zone with two straight jump shots in the first four minutes of the second half. That set the opportunity for Perkins and Worthy to dominate. Worthy did dominate, despite his low point total and a bad back that kept him out of the regular-season finale.
Even 7-foot-5 junior Chuck Nevitt's best career game (10 points, three rebounds, one assist) could not stop Carolina. After Pepper's two successive jump shots forced State Coach Jim Valvano into playing man-to-man, Perkins scored 11 and Worthy four of UNC's next 19 points. Suddenly a 33-31 game had become a 56-42 advantage for the Tar Heels with 8:41 to play.
Perkins ended the streak by scoring seven points in three possessions and forcing Nevitt out of the game on fouls. Thurl Bailey, State's 6-11 starting forward from Bladensburg, explained the problem:
"Perkins is a great freshman. It's hard to stop him because he's left-handed, for one thing, and he has such long arms."
Afterward, Perkins was loose. "I didn't feel any pressure at all," he said. "I'm relaxed. My confidence is sky-high. This is a big challenge for me, even though I'm only a freshman."
Said Valvano: "The prior two games we played, I thought we played well and they played well, but today they were just great. . . Perkins was incredible and the guards just super."