No. 21 North Carolina goes right back into fire vs. N.C. State

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s latest accomplishment leaves little time for celebration.

The No. 21 Tar Heels, who are fresh off defeating Duke, are back in action for Saturday afternoon’s game against North Carolina State at sold-out PNC Arena.

This one is bound to have an emotional edge as well.

N.C. State (16-8, 6-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) is aiming for its first regular-season series sweep of the Tar Heels in 15 years.

About 40 hours after finishing a grueling 82-78 victory over No. 9 Duke, the Tar Heels (18-7, 7-5) have another battle against a neighboring rival.

“It’s the hard part of the schedule now,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “Duke, N.C. State, two of the teams that we are closer to than anybody else, and then Notre Dame (on Monday) where we were as lucky as you could possibly be and win. It’s not a good situation, but it’s what the schedule says.”

For N.C. State, games against North Carolina usually are a call for peak interest.

However, that’s not always viewed that way from the other side. Earlier in the week, North Carolina senior guard Joel Berry downplayed the matchup with N.C. State compared with the team’s collisions with Duke.

“I don’t necessarily treat that like a rivalry,” Berry said of the Wolfpack. “N.C. State, I just don’t consider that to be a rivalry, we just don’t like them, but it’s not a rivalry like Duke and North Carolina.”

This rematch comes just two weeks after N.C. State’s stunning 95-91 overtime win in Chapel Hill.

In that game, N.C. State guard Allerik Freeman set a record for a North Carolina opponent by making 7 of 7 from 3-point range. That also tied an ACC record for attempted 3s without a miss.

“I was just going out there and trying to enjoy it,” said Freeman, a graduate transfer who arrived during the offseason after playing for Baylor, so that’s his only outing to date against the Tar Heels. “It was a lot of fun to go out there.”

Freeman is 1 of 12 from 3-point range in the two games since then.

Until losing Wednesday night at Virginia Tech, N.C. State had put together a three-game winning streak.

Yet the Wolfpack have exceeded many expectations this season.

“I’m excited about this bunch,” first-year N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “We don’t have a special formula. We have gotten better because we have done well in individual workouts. They are starting to believe in each other.”

Reaching the 70-point mark tends to be crucial for N.C. State. The Wolfpack are 0-5 when scoring 69 or fewer points.

Much of the offense has been delivered by point guard Markell Johnson, who set a school record with five consecutive games of 10 or more assists.

“Just playing with confidence,” Johnson said. “My coaches just believe in me. They’ve always believed in me.”

The Wolfpack have four victories against nationally ranked teams this season. The Tar Heels were No. 10 when N.C. State took them down last month.

North Carolina played practically error-free in one category against Duke, matching a school record for fewest turnovers in a game with two. The Tar Heels collected 44 rebounds, the most by a Duke opponent this season.