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North Carolina wins another tight one

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Updated 12 months ago on
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RALEIGH, N.C. — These close-game situations are becoming mighty familiar to North Carolina.

The 15th-ranked Tar Heels made enough plays down the stretch Wednesday night to turn away rival North Carolina State 81-79.

“We’re learning and we have a lot of experience playing in games like this,” North Carolina forward J.P. Tokoto said. “We’re learning and applying it.”

Guard Marcus Paige scored 23 points and North Carolina held off a late surge by host N.C. State at PNC Arena.

Guard Nate Britt’s two free throws with 3.1 seconds left helped clinch it as the Tar Heels defeated N.C. State for the 23rd time in the last 25 meetings.

N.C. State guard Trevor Lacey made two foul shots with 1.7 seconds remaining despite trying to miss the second one, leaving the Tar Heels ahead by one. Paige answered with two more free throws with one second left.

N.C. State’s Abdul-Malik Abu was fouled on a long inbounds pass with 0.2 of a second left. Abu made the first free throw to reduce the deficit to two and intentionally missed the second. Wolfpack freshman Cody Martin’s tip attempt in traffic didn’t drop as the horn sounded.

The two-point margin was larger than the two one-point games — a loss and a win — that North Carolina played in last week.

“It feels good when you come into a hostile place,” forward Isaiah Hicks said. “You just want to get a win.”

Forward Kennedy Meeks scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and Hicks, a sophomore, added a career-best 12 points for the Tar Heels (13-4, 3-1 ACC). North Carolina forward Brice Johnson provided 10 points before fouling out at the 5:10 mark.

For N.C. State (12-5, 3-2), which was coming off an upset of then-No. 2 Duke, guard Ralston Turner scored 20 points, Lacey had 19, and forward Kyle Washington tacked on 17 points.

A rough stretch midway through the second half doomed the Wolfpack.

“We need to be a little stronger with the ball,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “That hole was hard to get out of.”

Paige’s 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down pushed North Carolina’s lead to 71-60 with 4:22 left. Still, he didn’t need the heroics of last year when he made the game-winning shot in overtime on this same stage.

But there were some tense moments.

“It’s always a game when we come over here,” Tokoto said. “Always a thrill.”

Turner’s four-point play drew the Wolfpack within 73-68 with 2:40 remaining. His 3-pointer on the next possession closed the gap to 74-71.

N.C. State got the ball back with 44 seconds left on a shot-clock violation, but Turner missed a 3-pointer this time.

Paige sank two foul shots at the other end. After Turner missed, the Wolfpack retrieved the ball and Lacey drilled his only 3-pointer in six attempts with 14 seconds to go to close within 76-74.

Tokoto made the first of two free-throw attempts with 11.5 seconds left. North Carolina sent N.C. State guard Cat Barber to the foul line with 3.9 seconds remaining and he made both before Britt’s foul shots.

The defensive work by Tokoto on Lacey, who was 2 for 10 from the field at one juncture, was crucial for much of the game. Lacey went to work at the free-throw line, where he picked up 10 points in the second half.

“I can’t show my teammates that I’m frustrated on the floor,” Lacey said. “Once I wasn’t hitting my shots, I need to do something to see my shots go in. That’s what I should do from the jump.”

While Paige was clutch again for North Carolina, Gottfried said he was most disturbed by 17 baskets from the Tar Heels’ three primary post players.

“I feel he draws so much attention, other guys can get open,” Britt said of his teammate.

Washington scored seven points in the first four minutes of the second half to help prevent the Tar Heels from pulling away until a few minutes later.

North Carolina owned a 62-52 lead with nine minutes to play.

Forward BeeJay Anya, who was one of N.C. State’s standouts in Sunday’s upset of Duke, fouled out with 6:58 left, having

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