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Off the cuff: This game may have been won in the last two and a half minutes of the first half.

With the score tied at 25, the Tar Heels outscored State 7-1 to go into halftime with their biggest lead of the first half at 32-26.

Isaiah Hicks scored four of those points - first on a dunk on a nice feed from Kennedy Meeks and then on a hook shot.

Nate Britt drove in for the half's final bucket. State got close after that but never was able to tie it or take the lead again.

Carolina seemingly put the game out of reach midway through the second half when the Heels opened up a double-digit lead.

The game was pretty much in control until those weird last couple of minutes.

Tar Heels 81, NC State 79
Paige helps Heels hang on to win

North Carolina opened up a close game with a 10-0 run over rival NC State in the second half only to see a 12-point lead nearly evaporate in an 81-79 victory in Raleigh. (1/14)

The back-and-forth first half ended with the Tar Heels up six, 32-26 at the break. The Wolfpack cut the margin to two midway through the second half at 54-52.

That's when the Tar Heels reeled off 10 straight points and seemed in control of the game at 64-52 with less than eight minutes to play.

JP Tokoto led the way for the Heels during the run as he stole the ball and went in for a fast break layup and foul for a three-point play. Then he found an open Kennedy Meeks and whipped a pass to him for a dunk assist.

Carolina still led by 11 at 73-62 with 3:45 to go but then "some stuff started happening" as UNC coach Roy Williams put it.

Following a long two point basket by 6-foot-9 Kyle Washington, who had a season-high 17 points, Ralston Turner, saddled with four fouls, drained a three from the right corner and was fouled by UNC's Theo Pinson.

The four-point play drew the Pack to within five points at 73-68. After a UNC free throw, Turner, heavily guarded, hit another three with 2:10 left to make it 74-71.

Turner had a chance to tie it with 1:35 to go but missed the three. UNC's Marcus Paige, who led all scorers with 23 points, sank a pair of free throws with 32 seconds left to seemingly put the Tar Heels in control.

But Trevor Lacey, who had missed five three pointers with Tokoto covering him, hit a three from the top of the key to draw the Pack to within a bucket at 76-74 with 14 seconds left.

After a slew of free throws for each team, including another pair by Paige, the Heels led 81-78 with a second to go.

A foul by UNC's Isaiah Hicks on the court-long pass sent Abdul-Malik Abu to the free throw line. He hit the first and intentionally missed the second free throw. State's Cody Martin got his hand around Meeks for a tip that went to the left of the basket as Carolina escaped.

"We were lucky as all get out and we'll get out of town as quick as we can," Coach Williams said.

Williams generally was happy with his team, which shot 56 percent from the floor and got production (19 points) off the bench. But he was concerned with the offensive rebounding as State had 16 offensive rebounds compared to just seven for UNC. That's nine more possessions the Wolfpack got.

State coach Mark Gottfried said his team had a let down during the Carolina 10-0 run. "That hole was hard to get out of," he said. While he said his team never quit, he also said the club didn't always play with energy.

"We have a lot of things to build on," he said. "This young group needs to learn that it takes 40 minutes of high intensity."

He said that Paige, who scored 35 against the Pack last year, enjoys playing against the Pack but that he thought the difference was the 17 baskets by the three big men (Meeks 15 points, Brice Johnson 10 points and Isaiah Hicks' season-high 12 points off the bench.)

Paige had his best game of the year with nine assists and no turnovers to go with his 23 points, which included going five of five from three-point land.

Turner led State, now 12-6 and 3-2 in the league, with 20 points.

The 13-4 and 3-1 Tar Heels, who have now won 23 of the last 25 games against the Wolfpack, host Virginia Tech Sunday.


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