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UNC upsets No. 6 NC State at home. Three takeaways from the Tar Heels’ win

Call it Carmichael Chaos, because that’s exactly what it felt like.

North Carolina (18-9, 10-5 ACC) upset No. 6 N.C. State (23-4, 11-4 ACC), 80-70, on Thursday night in Chapel Hill, with almost everything going right for the Tar Heels. The victory extended UNC’s win streak to three games and snapped N.C. State’s four-game road win streak.

“We locked in on Tuesday, and we were very clear with how we wanted to play,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “I’m so proud of them. They played exactly how we wanted to play on both ends.”

The Wolfpack led by as many as seven points early in the first quarter, but it never came back after North Carolina took a lead at the end of the period. The defense, which averaged 59.8 opponent points per game, couldn’t stop the Heels. UNC finished with its highest point total since defeating Virginia, 81-68, on Jan. 14.

N.C. State, however, gave up at least 80 points for the second consecutive game, despite holding Notre Dame under 50 a week ago.

“Maybe we read press clippings too much after the Notre Dame game. That’s all we heard, ‘Oh, man, what a great defensive job,’” head coach Wes Moore said. “Well, we’ve come back down to earth now.”

Five UNC players finished in double figures, led by Lexi Donarski with 23 points. Alyssa Ustby added 11 points and 13 rebounds for her 15th double-double of the season. Deja Kelly finished with just nine points but dished out eight assists.

The Tar Heels moved the ball well, recording 17 total assists on 32 made shots. They went 32-63 from the field (50.8%) and 11-21 (52.4%) from the perimeter.

North Carolina limited its turnovers as well. It finished with just seven, a far cry from the 24 it committed against Wake Forest.

“It starts with us. It starts with defense. We’ve got to turn it up,” guard Saniya Rivers said. “We’ve got to figure out what we’re gonna do, because we don’t have that much time.”

N.C. State finished with four players in double figures. Aziaha James led all scorers with 24 points. Mimi Collins went 11 points, 10 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season. James and Madison Hayes both logged nine rebounds, just one off a double-double.

The Pack’s efficiency wasn’t perfect, but Moore feels fine about the offense. It recorded 17 second-chance points, logged 11 assists and got to the line. It was really just the defense.

“Seventy points ought to win a game. Eighty-five should win a game,” Moore said. “We’re fine there. We gotta guard somebody.”

Here are three takeaways from the game.

Wolfpack sags in second quarter

Both teams got out to a hot start, shooting 50% or better in the first quarter, but only one team continued its consistency from the field and broke away.

N.C. State made just three shots in the second quarter, going 3 of 21 (14.3%) from the field and making one 3-pointer. The Wolfpack missed nine straight buckets, leading to a 4:18 scoring drought to end the half.

The Pack couldn’t stop the Tar Heels on the opposite end, especially in the paint. It gave up 12 points and it didn’t matter who was in the post. N.C. State allowed six points when River Baldwin played at the five and when she sat on the bench.

UNC scored 8 of 17 in the second quarter and recorded five assists on its made shots. The Heels took a 42-35 lead into halftime.

The Wolfpack cut the Carolina lead to just three points twice in the third, but its defensive struggles allowed the Heels to respond each time.

“We had plenty of opportunities to overcome the second quarter, but we didn’t do it and they kept hitting shots,” Moore said. “They kept executing and getting shots. You’ve got to play better than that on the road in this league. It’s a tough league, and they’ve got a lot of talent over there, folks. They’ve got a lot of nice players, so give them credit.”

Zelaya, Donarski come in clutch

Alexandra Zelaya and Donarski deserve a lot of credit for the Tar Heels’ performance, hitting clutch threes in the win.

Zelaya recorded a career-high 12 points, which doubles her previous season high. Donarski tied her season high of 23 points, hitting five 3-pointers.

The duo combined for 9-of-16 shooting from the perimeter. Two of Zelaya’s shots came in the first quarter, cutting the Wolfpack lead to one possession. Then, Donarski made a corner 3 with 19 seconds left in the first half, giving the Tar Heels their first lead.

The duo added a flurry of shots in the second half, including two straight from Donarski to put North Carolina up 11.

N.C. State knew it couldn’t leave Donarski open, but it did and the Tar Heels executed.

Zelaya said her job is to “stay ready,” and that’s a role she takes seriously. It’s also a role the team encourages. Zelaya said Donarski and Anya Poole constantly encourage her to take shots.

“It’s almost like they’re threatening me. It’s like, ‘You better shoot or else,’” Zelaya said. “But I’m telling you, that mindset of, ‘My girls have my back’ — I feel like I could fly at that moment.”

Emotions run high

Some North Carolina fans like to say N.C. State isn’t its rival; that’s Duke. The highly charged matchup on Thursday night seemed to disprove that notion.

Officials gave Banghart a technical foul 5:24 into the second half.

Moore emphatically motioned to the officials after a no-call on River Baldwin, his face nearly matching the color of his team-issued pullover.

Fans erupted in displeasure when the officials called Kelly for her third personal foul with 1:10 remaining in the first quarter.

And there was plenty of shoving, hands in faces from both teams — not just normal defense — and stomping from the benches when the players didn’t agree with an official. Moore’s passion — and outspoken nature — continued throughout the game. He pounded his fist on the scorer’s table with 14.2 seconds in the third quarter after James picked up her second foul.

It could be argued there’s a lot to play for. There is. But it felt like more than that and UNC came out on top.