So many times at the PNC Arena, a little run does a lot for North Carolina.
So when the Tar Heels took the lead, midway through the second half, it looked like it would be another victory for Carolina and another loss for NC State in the rivalry.
Jarkel Joiner had a different idea.
The sixth-year guard scored a season-high 29 points and scored a game-changing run after the Wolfpack fell behind to lift NC State to a 77-69 victory over UNC.
The Tar Heels had won 36 of the previous 41 matchups between the former ACC rivals. Caleb Love’s 3-pointer at 10:23 gave UNC a 54-48 lead. On NC State’s next possession, Casey Morsell missed a 3 and the Wolfpack was just 3 of 16 from the arc.
But as they have all season, this group of NC State (21-7) kept their heads down and kept playing. DJ Burns had 18 points while Jack Clark had eight rebounds to help Joiner.
The graduate transfer from Ole Miss spurred a 7-0 run, capped by a 3 from Clark, to regain the lead, 55-54.
UNC (16-11) has lost five of its last six games and enters the final two weeks of the regular season with a weak NCAA tournament case. Love led the Heels with 20 points and Armando Bacot added 16 points and 14 rebounds.
It was NC State’s third victory over UNC in Kevin Keatts’ six-year tenure and second at the PNC in three seasons.
Keatts had taken a playful jab at UNC when asked about the significance of the victory.
“It’s not a rivalry, is it?” So why would I care? said Keatts.
The PNC crowd also enjoyed themselves. They chanted “NIT” at the Tar Heels in the closing seconds of the game.
The two teams were tied for most of the afternoon. After the match was tied at 60-60, Joiner led a 9-0 run. His layup at 4:45 made it 67-60. Then Ernest Ross blocked a layup attempt from Love and Joiner went down on the next possession and buried a 3 dagger on Pete Nance’s outstretched arm.
Little separated the teams at halftime. The Wolfpack held a 32-31 lead with Bacot leading UNC with eight points.
UNC, which entered the season ranked first, is 0-9 in Quadrant 1 games, something the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee values the most.
The Tar Heels won Game 1 against State, 80-69 on Jan. 21. It’s been a tough season since for UNC with home losses to Pitt and Miami and road losses to Duke and Wake Forest.
The Wolfpack is bolstered to its NCAA resume which includes a 4-4 record in first quarter games.