Watts experience proved invaluable to UNCs win

ESPN/ACC NETWORK — Probably 99 percent of the time, when fans argue that officiating robbed their team of a victory, it’s bullshit.

But N.C. State fans can formulate a legitimate case after the Pack dropped a 69-67 heart-breaker to North Carolina this afternoon in the ACC Tournament semifinal, completing UNC’s three-game sweep against NCSU this season. The Pack landed on the wrong end of several questionable calls, including the game-winning bucket when Kendall Marshall appeared to charge but earned a no-call from the referees.

On the other hand, State gifted the Heels with two atrocious turnovers in the final minutes, and Mark Gottfried failed to remove C.J. Leslie from the game after he picked up his fourth foul. Leslie scored 22 points but fouled out with eight minutes remaining, crippling the Pack’s endgame offense. Gottfried said after the game that he and his assistants suffered a “miscommunication” after Leslie picked up his fourth.

For Carolina, the Heels simply lack elite pedigree when John Henson spends his time on the sidelines. Henson, who’s nursing a sprained wrist, officially is day to day but was unable to pass muster during pre-game testing and may not be able to compete in tomorrow’s final, either.

UNC became further hobbled when Tyler Zeller, Kendall Marshall and James Michael McAdoo—who’s replacing Henson in the starting lineup—played reduced minutes due to foul trouble. Senior Justin Watts filled in admirably at power forward, wing forward and point guard, playing 18 minutes and making a game-saving steal with seconds remaining.

Zeller led the way with 23 points and nine rebounds on 8-for-11 shooting against a State frontline that was determined to shut him down. Marshall added 12 points and 10 assists, hitting the aforementioned short jumper off the glass. Harrison Barnes shot just 3-for-12 but did make a couple of critical buckets in the second half.

Carolina’s scoring imbalance resurfaced. The Heels converted 56 percent on two-point attempts but made just 25 percent on threes. They also won the rebounding battle by just one board, something that rarely occurs with Henson on the court.

State made only 3-for-11 on threes, so neither team shot well from the perimeter. The game effectively was a statistical tie, but Carolina maintained its composure better—and again, the officials appeared to exert some impact—during the closing minutes.

Most everyone agrees UNC will lock up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if tomorrow’s venture against Florida State proves successful. Carolina embarrassed itself in Tallahassee earlier this season and can win redemption against the Seminoles.

Kentucky and Syracuse likely have sewn up No. 1 spots, leaving the Tar Heels, Kansas, Missouri and Michigan State as the most likely contenders for the other two. Depending upon how the Tigers and Spartans finish their conference tournaments (the Jayhawks already lost), Carolina may receive a No. 1 no matter what happens tomorrow.

State’s tournament fate hangs in the balance. The Wolfpack certainly played like an NCAA-worthy team this weekend, but they still do not have a resume loaded with big wins. They likely strengthened their bubble position, but by no means are they a lock to make the field. And if that happens, you can bet that State nation’s howling about unfair treatment within the ACC will reach cacophonous proportions.

Click here to view the UNC/NCSU box score.