Yet the latest meeting of longtime rivals ended up just like about all the others in the past five years.
Tyler Zeller had 21 points and a career-best 17 rebounds to help the seventh-ranked Tar Heels beat the Wolfpack 74-55 on Thursday night, their 11th consecutive victory in the series.
Reggie Bullock added 11 points in his first career start for the Tar Heels (17-3, 4-1), who dominated almost the entire night in their first game without injured starter Dexter Strickland. North Carolina's defense shut down the Wolfpack (15-6, 4-2) with one of its better performances of the season, while the offense got plenty of chances around the rim.
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North Carolina shot 48 percent and led by 31 points in the second half.
"I think they're a lot better team than they were last year," North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall said, "but I think we just came to play tonight."
N.C. State was off to its best start in the league in six years under new coach Mark Gottfried and had lost just once since falling to then-No. 1 Syracuse on Dec. 17. But N.C. State never threatened to earn its first win over the Tar Heels since 2007 or its first victory in Chapel Hill since 2003.
The disappointment showed when junior Scott Wood was asked about the frustration of being winless against UNC.
"I don't know. Has your wife ever cheated on you?" Wood said curtly, followed by a 4-second pause. "That's probably about how frustrating it is."
Wood scored 11 points to lead the Wolfpack, whose only real highlight came when Lorenzo Brown banked in an 80-foot heave to beat the halftime horn. By that point, however, the Tar Heels led by 14 points and were on the way to turning the entire second half into a crowd-pleasing romp.
"We were really good for certain parts of that game, there's no question about that," coach Roy Williams said.
It was North Carolina's first game since losing Strickland to a season-ending knee injury last week at Virginia Tech. The injury robbed the team of its backup point guard and top perimeter defender, forcing Williams to start Bullock and give freshman Stilman White more minutes behind Marshall.
Bullock hit 4 of 9 shots, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range, and finished with five rebounds in a career-high 33 minutes.
"I had to pick up my intensity of play, defend, rebound, do everything Coach wants me to do," Bullock said. "It's just basically how I play coming off the bench. I just had to start off like that for 40 minutes of the game."
Harrison Barnes added 15 points for North Carolina, while Marshall had 11 assists.
The Wolfpack averaged 77 points on 48-percent shooting behind a balanced attack coming in, but things went badly from the start.
Richard Howell picked up three fouls by midway through the first half, while C.J. Leslie had a tough time scoring inside with Zeller and John Henson lurking in the paint. N.C. State struggled to get much inside, managed only a single basket on the fast break and missed most of its jumpers.
N.C. State finished with season-lows in points and shooting percentage (36.8). Gottfried said it was the first time his team didn't show the poise to stay with the offense and grind out shots.
"This isn't a measuring stick. I'm not into all that," Gottfried said. "... I thought tonight, you've got to give them credit because they did a nice job guarding us and going inside on us, but we did not play nearly as well as I think we have this year."
In a sign of how rough things got for N.C. State, Brown banked in a straightaway 3-pointer in the first 90 seconds then didn't score again until his fullcourt heave that ended a 4½-minute scoring drought and cut the deficit to 37-23. N.C. State got within 11 points in the first minute after halftime, but the Tar Heels answered with a 12-2 run that blew the game open.
"It's not Carolina-Duke," Barnes said, "but we definitely wanted to go out there and show them that this is our court and this is what we do."