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Off the cuff: The win over N.C. State could be a season changer... or a blip. I suspect though that the momentum has changed a bit. As long as they stay healthy, the Heels will continue to get better.

During their big run in the second half, the defense clamped down and the guards drove to the hoop quickly and aggressively. If that continues and Davis heals and Thompson plays like he can, the Tar Heels will be hard to beat. We'll certainly know more after the Virginia game at home Sunday.

With three losses in ACC play already, every game is going to be big from here on out. The Heels need to go .500 in the league to make sure they go to the NCAA tournament. That means they must go 6-5 the rest of the way. They should be able to do that. Now, if they want to be in the hunt for the crown, they need to go something like 10-1 - very unlikely. I'm thinking 9-2 or 8-3 would get them a very nice seed in the tournament.

Keep in mind that Carolina plays Duke twice, at Maryland, at Georgia Tech and at Wake plus they have no sacrificial Tiger at home this year. To get to 8-3 and thus 10-6 in the league for the season, they not only have to win two of those games but they have to win all the games they should including tough ones at Boston College and at Virginia Tech.

So, while the N.C. State win was big, really big, there is a long road left.

Tar Heels 77, N.C. State 63
How Carolina got its groove back

Despite playing well throughout the first half, North Carolina, already with three league losses, found itself down by five with five minutes gone in the second half. That's when the Tar Heels got in a groove and possibly saved their season over the next 10 minutes, going on to defeat N.C. State in Raleigh by a 77-63 score. (1/26)

Carolina outscored N.C. State 28-6 during that 10-minute stretch and went from five down to 17 up with less than six minutes left in the game at 66-49. The run started with a Larry Drew three and ended with a Drew coast-to-coast driving layup. Highlights during the run, which looked like a basketball clinic video, included a turn-around jumper by Deon Thompson that tied the score and a Thompson steal and drive-by dunk that caused the Wolfpack to call timeout.

A Dexter Strickland end-to-end driving bucket gave Carolina a 45-43 lead during the run and the Tar Heels never looked back. UNC freshman John Henson came off the bench with three blocks and a finger-tip roll bucket during the stretch.

Another key to the win was the play of Ed Davis, who was cleared to play just 15 minutes before the opening tip. Davis, who has been nursing a bad ankle, scored 12 points and hauled in nine rebounds. Thompson led the way with 20 points while Drew tied a career-high with 18 points and Strickland scored 14 with a six-of-seven performance.

The Heels shot 51 percent from the floor for the game, including 59 percent in the deciding second half. Carolina also turned the ball over only 10 times and hit on six of 13 three-point attempts.

The Wolfpack shot only 39 percent for the game, including just 29 percent in the second half. Tracy Smith led the Pack with 20 points.

The game went back and forth most of the first half but the Tar Heels opened up a nine-point lead late in the half only to see State trim the margin to four at the half, 37-33, after the Pack hit three three-pointers in a row.

Carolina went five minutes into the second half before scoring a bucket, going zero of eight. But after Drew hit a three with 14:26 left, the Heels went on that big run that blew out the Wolfpack.

The win, which was the Heels first road victory of the season, moves the Heels to 13-7 and 2-3 in the league. Carolina faces Virginia at home Sunday night.

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