Last season, North Carolina visited North Carolina State as the nation’s No. 3 team with a healthy Ty Lawson in tow - and still lost.
The Tar Heels, ranked third again, will hope for a different outcome when they travel to Raleigh on Wednesday, even though Lawson is expected to be sidelined for the fifth straight game.
Lawson had 21 points and seven assists at N.C. State on Feb. 3, 2007, but the Wolfpack shot 60.5 percent from the field and shocked the Tar Heels 83-79. It was their only win against North Carolina (24-2, 9-2 ACC) in the rivals’ last 10 meetings.
North Carolina has won three straight against N.C. State since that game, including a 93-62 blowout on Jan. 12. The Tar Heels also enter Wednesday’s game having won three straight overall, including a 92-53 rout of Virginia Tech on Saturday.
They’ve been without Lawson for the last four games after he sprained his ankle during a Feb. 3 overtime win at Florida State, part of North Carolina’s perfect road mark. The Tar Heels, who trail first-place Duke by one game in the ACC, are 10-0 in true road games and 12-0 overall away from Chapel Hill this season.
A number of other players have also battled illness and injury in recent games, and it hadn’t been easy without Lawson, as North Carolina lost to Duke, beat Clemson in double overtime and edged Virginia in the first three games without him.
“I don’t think you can look at them any differently, I really don’t,” N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe told the school’s official Web site. “If you do that, you set yourself up for failure. … While we realize (Lawson) may not be playing, we still have to prepare the same way because we’ve seen them win ballgames.”
The Tar Heels’ most emphatic win without Lawson came Saturday, when they held Virginia Tech to 25.9 percent shooting and outrebounded the Hokies 54-24 in what coach Roy Williams called their “best defensive game of the year.”
“It’s good to have a win like that where you’re just going out there having fun and things are going your way and you don’t have to grind it out through the whole game,” North Carolina’s Marcus Ginyard said. “But everybody knows what’s coming up and we’re going to have more games where we have to grind it out. It was definitely nice today, but we can’t think we’re going to have much more of that.”
Tyler Hansbrough had 23 points and nine rebounds and Wayne Ellington added 19 points to pace the Tar Heels against Virginia Tech.
Each player had 13 points in the blowout of N.C. State (15-10, 4-7) last month, as North Carolina allowed just 13 first-half points.
“I’m kind of speechless because I didn’t see that coming,” N.C. State’s Ben McCauley said after that game. “I thought we were much better than that. Unfortunately, we didn’t play up to our potential, and as you saw, we got our butts whipped.”
N.C. State has lost its last three overall, including 71-64 at home to Clemson on Saturday. Freshman J.J. Hickson had 13 points and a season-high 23 rebounds while Gavin Grant added 18 points and seven boards, but the Wolfpack again struggled in the first half, trailing 34-23 at the break.
They rallied in the second half and even took a lead with less than three minutes to go, but allowed the game’s final nine points.
“Not much I can say, because our effort was there,” Lowe said. “We just have to finish the game down the stretch. We need to be strong enough physically and mentally.”