Just when it appeared undefeated North Carolina was on the ropes midway through the second half, the nation's top-ranked team rediscovered the poise and inside scoring that had marked its play all season and went on to a 61-41 victory over Atlantic Coast Conference rival North Carolina State.
After a close first half in which neither team's offense was consistent, Carolina scored six points in a row to go ahead, 33-23, at the 14:54 mark. And with State forced out of its 2-3 zone defense and into a man to man, UNC seemed in command.
At that point, however, Carolina went cold. While UNC was missing five consecutive inside shots, the Wolfpack scored nine points, the final two coming on a follow basket by forward Harold Thompson. That put State within 33-32, and most of the crowd of 12,400 was cheering.
But the Tar Heels came through splendidly. State repeatedly attempted long-range jumpers, but Carolina patiently worked the ball inside. In the six minutes following Thompson's score, each member of Carolina's starting five powered to the basket and either scored or was fouled. With center Sam Perkins and guard Jimmy Black making three-point plays, UNC scored 12 points in a row to effectively decide the contest.
"To me, the whole turning point of the game was when it was 33-32," said State Coach Jim Valvano, whose team dropped to 12-2 and 3-1 in the ACC. "At that point we kind of freaked out."
"I thought it was amazing the way we played," UNC Coach Dean Smith said. "We can't play much better."
The play of Perkins and freshman guard Michael Jordan was crucial for the Tar Heels (12-0, 3-0).
Perkins, who had 13 points and a game-high eight rebounds, shut down State's leading scorer and rebounder, forward Thurl Bailey. Bailey scored five points and made but one move to the basket as State was unable to mount any inside scoring attack.
Jordan scored Carolina's first six points and had 10 in the first half. Two of his baskets came on offensive rebounds even though his teammates were largely unsuccessful in penetrating State's zone. In the second half, Jordan had 10 points. He led all scorers for the game.
A measure of the 12fth-ranked Wolfpack's collapse was their 26 percent shooting in the second half. With the game at stake, said State guard Dereck Whittenburg, "We took our shot, but we rushed it."
Whittenburg finished with 18 points, the only State player in double figures.