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February 20, 2012The second time around rarely gets easier in basketball.
This is particularly true if the return match is on an opponent's home court and that opponent lost in the first game.
Seventh-ranked North Carolina certainly does not expect an easy time of it at the RBC Center in Raleigh on Tuesday at 8 p.m. against N.C. State.
Carolina defeated the Wolfpack 74-55 in Chapel Hill on Jan. 26. The Tar Heels held N.C. State to 25 percent shooting in the first half of that game.
There is more than just pride and the desire to play better at stake for the Wolfpack. The last couple of weeks of the regular season are of great importance to many teams. This is particularly true for the Wolfpack because N.C. State wants to ensure it gets a big to the NCAA Tournament.
The Wolfpack is 18-9, 7-5 in the ACC entering Tuesday's game.
"When they play with confidence, they are a tough team to beat," UNC point guard Kendall Marshall said. "This is a big game for them, and we feel like it's a big game for us because we're playing in it.
"They're trying to get a good seeding for the ACC [Tournament] and build their resume for the NCAA Tournament. So it's going to be a big game."
The crowd will certainly be in prime form, as it always is when the Tar Heels (23-4, 10-2) come to Raleigh. Marshall said the Tar Heels would like to silence the Wolfpack fans as quickly as possible.
The Wolfpack is honoring NCSU's last ACC regular season championship team (1989), including two players, Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta. who were ejected from State's home game Saturday against Florida State by veteran ACC official Karl Hess.
"We want to come out with a strong start and take the crowd out of it early. If we do that it will be easier than if we let the crowd get behind them.
"I think they are also honoring one of their [former] teams, so the juices are going to be flowing for them. We want to take the air out of the building as quickly as possible."
Carolina junior John Henson has been to the RBC Center and heard the fans and read their signs on a couple of occasions. He knows what to expect.
"It's going to be a rough game; it's not going to be easy, but we're ready," Henson said.
Since that game in Chapel Hill, the Wolfpack has continued to improve. It suffered a heartbreaking loss to Duke after having the Blue Devils down by 20 points.
But that loss has not stopped N.C. State from getting better. First-year coach Mark Gottfried has quickly turned this program in the right direction.
"I think the more you play together under your system, with each week you get more accustomed to what the coaching staff wants," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "You get more accustomed to getting the shots with that new style; the new philosophy of play is going to help you.
"So I think the experience of playing every week you get better and better. They appear to be healthier. I think that they've settled in on the starting five, and they've got a couple of guys coming off the bench that know their role. They have come in and are doing some good things for them."
The Wolfpack struggled with Carolina's size on the interior in the first game. Gottfried said that N.C. State must find a way to deal more effectively with UNC's length in this one.
"It's difficult because not only do they have great length, they use it in a very effective way," Gottfried said. "They go the offensive rebounds and use their length there. They can score over you with the basketball. They alter a lot of shots. We've got to be creative, and our guys have to attack their size, especially inside, much smarter than we did in the first game.
"I don't think you can just back a guy down and shoot a normal, back-to-the-basket post move. We've made too many of those attempts. So we've got to be a lot better than that."
Carolina outrebounded the Wolfpack 48-26 in the first game.