NC State-North Carolina Preview

The Associated Press

North Carolina was the only Top 25 team not to play this past weekend.

Coach Roy Williams probably didn't mind, as the extra break gave him time to tweak his lineup in the wake of starting guard Dexter Strickland's season-ending injury.

The seventh-ranked Tar Heels take the court for the first time without Strickland on Thursday night when they host ACC rival North Carolina State, which is trying to avoid losing an 11th straight in the series.

After a humiliating 90-57 loss at Florida State on Jan. 14, North Carolina (16-3, 3-1) rallied for an 82-68 road victory over Virginia Tech last Thursday. The Tar Heels trailed 44-36 early in the second half before Harrison Barnes scored nine of his season-high 27 points during a 19-0 run that put North Carolina up for good.

"We just got back to playing our game, getting out in transition, running, getting easy points that way," said Barnes, who is one of the leading scorers in the ACC at 17.4 points per game. "It was good that we were able to overcome that deficit, and roar our way back into the game and have a good turnout."

Although the Tar Heels won for the 10th time in 11 games, the victory came at a cost.

Midway through the game-changing run, Strickland tore his right anterior cruciate ligament when his knee buckled on a drive.

The 6-foot-3 junior, who had started all but one game since the beginning of last season, was averaging 7.5 points and shooting a team-best 57.0 percent. He was also the Tar Heels' top perimeter defender and No. 2 ballhandler behind point guard Kendall Marshall.

"We're going to have to make up a lot defensively," senior forward Tyler Zeller told the Tar Heels' official website. "He's a fantastic defender. He can chase guys around screens. He can defend one-on-one very well. It is a big loss for us."

Sophomore Reggie Bullock and freshman P.J. Hairston will likely be called upon to fill the void.

While Strickland's injury is obviously a big blow, North Carolina still boasts a formidable frontcourt in Zeller and John Henson.

Zeller is averaging 14.4 points and 9.3 rebounds, while Henson - who had 16 points, 16 boards and six blocks against the Hokies - averages 14.5 points and an ACC-best 10.1 rebounds.

Henson created major problems for the Wolfpack last season, grabbing 31 rebounds and blocking 13 shots in North Carolina's two wins.

The Tar Heels have won 10 straight over North Carolina State since an 83-79 loss Feb. 3, 2007, and the last eight meetings at the Dean Smith Center since an overtime defeat in 2003. North Carolina has won 29 in a row overall in Chapel Hill, three shy of the school record set from 1926-29.

The Wolfpack (15-5, 4-1) are already one victory away from matching their total in ACC play from last season. They won their third straight Sunday, 78-73 in Miami.

"We're playing well at the right time," said forward Scott Wood, who averages a team-best 13.3 points. "We just need to continue to get in the gym and work hard and continue to build on this momentum that we have."

Wood had a season-best 21 points against the Hurricanes and set the ACC all-time consecutive free-throw record at 58.

The junior, who has started 84 of 86 games at North Carolina State, is averaging 3.8 points on 16.7 percent shooting in four matchups against North Carolina - his lowest marks versus any ACC opponent.

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