RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — For once, North Carolina’s offense wasn’t all about Kendall Marshall racking up assists by looking to his high-scoring teammates instead of for his own shot.
Instead, the pass-first point guard turned in the best scoring day of his career to go with his latest masterful floor game.
The sophomore had a career-high 22 points and 13 assists to help No. 7 North Carolina beat North Carolina State 86-74 on Tuesday night, extending the Tar Heels’ domination of their nearby rivals.
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Harrison Barnes added 20 points for the Tar Heels (24-4, 11-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who beat the Wolfpack (18-10, 7-6) for the 12th straight time. North Carolina hasn’t lost to N.C. State since February 2007 and has its longest winning streak in the 99-year history of the series.
Everything started with Marshall.
“I just came in confident,” Marshall said. “I feel like any player’s going to be much better when they play with confidence.”
Marshall found plenty of openings as N.C. State’s defense sagged off him to help on Tyler Zeller and John Henson inside. He came in with just three double-figure scoring games all season, but hit 7 of 8 shots and 4 of 5 from 3-point range to provide an unexpected burst of offense.
Marshall also hit all four of his free throws and had no turnovers in 38 minutes.
“Kendall Marshall was something else,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “I can sit up here and nitpick all I want, but he was really, really good.”
Behind Marshall, the Tar Heels got off to a strong start in front of a hostile crowd, shot 51 percent for the game and even shook off their outside-shooting struggles by making 10 of 19 3-point shots.
C.J. Leslie had a career-high 24 points to go with 12 rebounds for N.C. State, but the Wolfpack just couldn’t keep up.
Barnes reached the 20-point mark for the fourth time in five games, while the Tar Heels had all five starters score in double figures for the first time this season.
“I thought everyone was clicking,” Barnes said. “Just off the bat, John makes a shot, Reggie (Bullock) makes a shot, I make a shot, Kendall makes a shot. When you’ve got four guys taking four different shots and making them all, we’re hard to stop. And we did a good job of keeping the pace going.”
In last month’s first meeting in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels dominated the entire way and led by 31 points in a 74-55 win. This time, the Tar Heels remained in firm control and turned away several spurts before stretching the lead out in the final 11 minutes.
The Tar Heels ran off nine straight points to take a 71-55 lead on Barnes’ jumper over C.J. Williams with 8:18 left. Marshall followed that with another 3 for the Tar Heels’ largest lead at 74-56 with 7 minutes left — signaling yet another UNC win in the series.
“Once he’s shooting like that, I don’t think anybody can stop him,” N.C. State’s Lorenzo Brown said of Marshall.
N.C. State has lost to Duke, Florida State and North Carolina in the past week, the three teams that entered the week leading the ACC standings. This might’ve been the Wolfpack’s last chance for a marquee win to help its NCAA tournament chances even as the program has its best league win total in six years.
“We certainly had opportunities to help ourselves, no question,” first-year N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “What we have to do now is continue to play really hard and do everything we possibly can and see where we end up.”
While the sight of light blue always incites Wolfpack fans, the red-clad crowd in the RBC Center was in a particularly foul mood days after referee Karl Hess ejected former Wolfpack stars Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta from their seats behind the scorer’s table during Saturday’s loss to the Seminoles.
Not coincidentally, N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow decided that same day to honor the 1989 team — Corchiani and Gugliotta were on the squad that won the program’s last ACC regular-season title — before the game to add some extra spice to the already charged home crowd.
But the Tar Heels came out fast with a 10-2 spurt that drained some of that buzz, then answered a push by the Wolfpack that tied it midway through the first half by taking a 46-41 halftime lead.
The Wolfpack never got that close again.
“Just haven’t been quite good enough yet to get over that hump at times,” Gottfried said. “That’s where this team has got to find a way to do that.”