RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—Sidney Lowe always knew how to beat North Carolina as a player. The first-year coach proved he can also top the Tar Heels from the sideline.
The former North Carolina State point guard earned his first big victory as its coach when the Wolfpack upset No. 3 North Carolina 83-79 on Saturday in just the kind of rivalry game he was hired to win.
“It’s one win, but it’s a big win. I’ve never shied away from the rivalry of the three schools down here, and it’s a big win,” Lowe said. “It’s not something that I made up—this was here long before me, and when I got here they told me this was a big game, and I believed them. I don’t see it ever changing.”
Courtney Fells scored 21 points, Ben McCauley had 17 and Gavin Grant added 16 for N.C. State (13-8, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference)—which led by 12, held off the Tar Heels’ frantic comeback bid and beat two of the ACC’s best teams in a four-day span. The Wolfpack upset No. 16 Virginia Tech 70-59 on Wednesday.
“The game they played against Virginia Tech, and to turn around and play like this against us, Sid and his staff and all the Wolfpack faithful should feel very good about that,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
This time, N.C. State controlled most of the second half, three times pushing its lead into double figures. The last—and biggest—came when Fells’ 3-pointer from the right wing made it 72-60 with just under 7 minutes left.
North Carolina clawed back, eventually pulling within three in the final moments when Brandan Wright’s leaner made it 80-77 with 1:08 left.
But Engin Atsur hit two free throws for the Wolfpack, who forced the Tar Heels into misses on three straight possessions in the final minute and gave Williams his first loss to N.C. State. After the buzzer, students poured onto the court and whooped it up with the ecstatic Wolfpack players.
“We’re just trying to get us back to where we rightfully should be,” forward Brandon Costner said.
Tyler Hansbrough led the Tar Heels (20-3, 6-2) with 24 points and scored his 1,000th career point on a dunk late in the first half. North Carolina’s other three double-figure scorers were freshmen—Ty Lawson (21 points), Wright (15) and Wayne Ellington (11).
The Tar Heels had their five-game winning streak snapped and blew a chance to move up in the rankings with No. 2 Wisconsin’s midweek loss to Indiana.
“Nobody should have given us the trophy last Saturday when we beat Arizona, and nobody’s going to stop us from playing basketball now just because we got our tails kicked today,” Williams said.
Costner had 15 points and 11 rebounds and Atsur had all 12 of his points in the second half for the Wolfpack, who beat the Tar Heels for the first time since 2003.
“We probably won’t even have to go to class,” Grant said, laughing.
Lowe was hired to win these types of games. He was the point guard on the Jim Valvano-coached Wolfpack team that beat North Carolina twice as a senior in 1982-83 and went on to win an improbable national championship.
In recent seasons N.C. State’s fan base grew increasingly frustrated with consistent losses to rivals Duke and North Carolina under coach Herb Sendek, who went 8-38 against those schools during his 10 seasons before leaving for Arizona State.
“It means (Lowe) is going to be around here for a long time,” Costner said. “You (media) guys can look forward to keep interviewing him, keep talking to him and just see Wolfpack basketball take off again.”
Lowe was embarrassed after his first home game against one of the state’s Big Four schools—a 79-56 loss to Duke two weeks earlier—and with their first-year coach this time wearing a bright red sportcoat, it seemed the Wolfpack came out clearly mindful of their miserable performance in that one.
“He was a player, so he knows what we’re going through, he knows how we feel toward the game,” Costner said. “Getting on us in practice so that we knew that this game was more than other games.”
This time, they pounced on the Tar Heels early. N.C. State’s largest lead of the first half came when Fells’ 3-pointer with 6:06 left made it 29-20.
North Carolina rallied to tie it 36-36 on Lawson’s free throw with 5.7 seconds left in the half. The Tar Heels allowed Grant to drive the length of the floor for a layup just before the buzzer, a defensive lapse that infuriated Williams—who stormed toward the locker room when the ball was barely through the net.
“It was not very bright,” Williams said.