Before a recent lull, it appeared that North Carolina State was a serious contender for its first ACC regular-season title in 24 seasons. Those hopes have faded in recent days, but a win Saturday night would undoubtedly give the team a much-needed boost.
The 18th-ranked Wolfpack will seek to end a lengthy losing streak to rival North Carolina when the surging Tar Heels visit Raleigh.
N.C. State capped a 3-0 start to ACC play - its best since 1973-74 - with an 84-76 victory over No. 1 Duke on Jan. 12, but it's lost twice in the past three games. A season-worst 31.1 percent shooting contributed to a 51-50 defeat at Maryland on Jan. 16, and a poor defensive performance in the second half helped send the Wolfpack to an 86-84 loss at Wake Forest on Tuesday.
N.C. State (15-4, 4-2) led by 12 at halftime but gave up 51 points over the final 20 minutes, spoiling a milestone night for Richard Howell and Lorenzo Brown.
Both players surpassed 1,000 points - giving this season's team four such scorers - and recorded double-doubles. Freshman Rodney Purvis had a team-best 18 points, one shy of his career high.
"We can be better defensively," coach Mark Gottfried said. "For us to become a really good team, we can't have the lulls and periods where we are not as good defensively as we are at other times."
N.C. State, 11-0 at home, would probably love to have a more consistent performance Saturday. The Wolfpack haven't beaten the Tar Heels (13-5, 3-2) since Feb. 3, 2007, losing a series-worst 13 straight matchups and 19 of the past 20.
"I think our guys will be eager to play, regardless of our opponent," Gottfried said. "I think the fact that North Carolina's our next opponent, I think our guys will be more than ready to play."
N.C. State lost three times to North Carolina in 2011-12, falling 69-67 in the ACC tournament semifinals March 10. The Wolfpack will now face a team that's seeking a season high-tying fourth straight win after losing three of five.
North Carolina had its best scoring performance in conference play in the latest of those victories, 79-63 over visiting Georgia Tech on Wednesday.
Reggie Bullock had a team-best 17 points after scoring a career-high 24 in a 62-52 win over Maryland last Saturday. James Michael McAdoo just missed his sixth double-double of the season and his second in a row, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds, and P.J. Hairston provided 15 points off the bench.
"We're working on finding our place every day in practice," forward Brice Johnson told the school's official website. "We've gotten much more used to where we're supposed to be, and we want to do whatever helps our team win."
North Carolina hasn't won four in a row since its 4-0 start to this season, while N.C. State hasn't suffered back-to-back losses since a four-game skid Feb. 16-25, which included an 86-74 home defeat to the then-No. 7 Tar Heels.
Howell has double-digit rebounds in seven straight games, the longest streak for an N.C. State player since Tommy Burleson's 10 in a row in 1972-73. He's grabbed 10 or more in each of his last two games against North Carolina.
Junior forward C.J. Leslie, leading the Wolfpack with 15.3 points per game, scored a combined 46 points on 18-for-31 shooting (58.1 percent) and pulled down 19 rebounds in the last two meetings with North Carolina in 2011-12.
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