Until today, much of the recent basketball talk in the Piedmont region of North Carolina had been tinged with sympathy: Pity poor North Carolina State, for the wrath of the Tar Heels was about to fall upon the Wolfpack.

Top-ranked North Carolina, coming off an upset loss to Maryland Thursday, was expected to come back from the loss with a vengeance. But North Carolina State, which had lost three straight close games, had some wrath of its own, and the Wolfpack dealt the Tar Heels their second loss in four days, 76-65, before 12,400 in Reynolds Coliseum.

N.C. State (18-9 overall and 7-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) never trailed, had an 11-point lead at halftime and went up by 17 with just over 13 minutes to play.

But the Wolfpack didn't rest easy.

"I knew they would come back," said N.C. State Coach Jim Valvano. "I didn't know how much, or when, but I knew they would come back."

True to form, North Carolina cut the lead to five with 2:49 to play, but could do no better. North Carolina State made 10 of 12 foul shots in the closing minutes to hold off a comeback. Center Chris Washburn, who scored 26 points on 10-for-15 shooting, put the finish on the upset in the last seconds with a dunk -- his second in four minutes -- that sent many in the crowd into ice-throwing, cup-tossing delirium.

North Carolina (25-3 and 9-3) was playing without starter Steve Hale and 7-foot reserve Warren Martin. Hale sustained a partially collapsed right lung when he was struck on the chest during the Maryland game.

"We beat Carolina; there ain't no but in there -- we beat Carolina," said Nate McMillan.

"We have guys who can come off the bench and do the job (for Hale and Martin)," said Joe Wolf. "We have no excuses."

Wolf had the difficult assignment of guarding Washburn. He tried playing in front of him, behind him and beside him, but Washburn continually evaded him.

"It's hard to defend Washburn when he gets down in the paint," Wolf said. "I tried to deny the pass. I wasn't very successful."

"Wash had a heck of a game," said Valvano. "I think this was the best basketball game he's played. I'm starting to say that a lot now, and that shows he's really developing."

The Tar Heels slowed Washburn down at one point, but just when they did, Bennie Bolton made two long jumpers to open it up again. His 18 points were a career high.

North Carolina, which had been shooting better than 52 percent from the floor, shot 39 percent today, missing 43 shots. The only reason the figure was that high is because the Tar Heels shot a respectable 47 percent in the second half. In the first, they made just 10 of 33 shots. North Carolina State made 52 percent of its shots for the game.

"We tried very hard today," said North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, who this week undoubtedly will see his team drop from the top spot in the polls it has held since the second week of the season. "State just played very well. We gave a good effort. We got some good shots in the first half . . . We simply missed. I would be concerned if we weren't getting good shots."

Now, North Carolina, which had seemed headed for at least a share of the ACC championship, must regroup. Although the Tar Heels have beaten Georgia Tech twice and Duke once, they have lost three games in the conference, all to teams in the mid-to-low range of the standings (Virginia, Maryland and N.C. State).

"We've got to try to get our mental attitude back together," said Brad Daugherty, whose 23 points led the Tar Heels.

North Carolina and Georgia Tech are tied for second place in the conference at 9-3. Georgia Tech will finish its season in Atlanta against North Carolina State Thursday and against Clemson Sunday. North Carolina will play at home Wednesday against Virginia and at Duke Sunday.

Duke leads the league at 10-2. It will play at Clemson Wednesday and at home against North Carolina Sunday.

For the Wolfpack, today's victory was sweetened by the intensity of the intrastate rivalry.

"The rivalry is so big it's like the national championship," McMillan said. "We haven't won a lot of games this year, but we've won some. They the crowd don't jump out on the court and celebrate like that any other time." Purdue 85, Indiana 68

Todd Mitchell scored a game-high 24 points yesterday in West Lafayette, Ind., enabling the Boilermakers to beat Indiana, 85-68, and knock the Hoosiers from sole possession of first place in the Big Ten Conference.

The Boilermakers, who moved within a half-game of Indiana and Michigan, took the lead for good when Mitchell made two foul shots with 18:l5 left in the first half. He had 10 points in the first 10 minutes.

Mitchell's good start, plus three consecutive scores by guard Mack Gadis, who had two baskets after making steals, produced a 30-15 lead with 10:19 left in the first half.

Purdue found holes in Indiana's man-to-man defense consistently in the first half and were near perfect from outside in taking a 38-19 lead on Everett Stephens' 15-footer with 5:27 left.

Doug Lee's 20-footer gave Purdue its biggest lead, 41-19, with 3:49 left in the first half. The Boilermakers were 19 of 23 from the field up to then. By halftime, it was 46-29.

Steve Alford, averaging 23 points for Indiana, had only eight, because Stephens, among others, denied him the ball.

Purdue, which has won five straight, is 10-5 in the conference and 21-7 overall. Indiana, which had won 10 of its last 11 games, is 10-4 and 18-6.