Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bitter pill for Carolina as wild turn of events ends with Pack victory

North Carolina outplayed N.C. State for all but about 20 seconds during which the Wolfpack scored on, of all things, a two-yard tipped Hail Mary play on fourth down and an 87-yard punt return a couple of minutes later.

The Tar Heels, even though in control most of the day, settled for field goals instead of getting touchdowns and led 19-10 when the Pack scored those two touchdowns to take a lead they never relinquished, eventually winning 29-25.

UNC coach Butch Davis was not happy about a couple of non-calls for intentional grounding on State QB Russell Wilson. He said that if it were called like it should been, "the tipped ball in the end zone never happens."

It was a bitter pill for the 17 Carolina seniors who lost all four of their games against State. Three of last four games have been decided by a combined total of nine points.

One area that State dominated was in rushing and blitzing the quarterback with its linebackers. The Wolfpack sacked UNC's T.J. Yates seven times including in the last seconds for a safety.

N.C. State can play for the ACC championship with a victory next week at Maryland, something that apparently is a foregone conclusion to some. "This was a two-fer," State coach Tom O'Brien said. "We got to beat Carolina and play for the championship."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Neither Barnes nor most Heels can buy a basket in loss to Gophers

North Carolina's freshman sensation Harrison Barnes hasn't been very sensational lately as he hasn't scored a field goal in three halves, including an 0 for 13 effort in a 72-67 loss to Minnesota in the Puerto Rico tournament.

What a low after such a high against Hofstra. Just when you think the bad taste of last year is out of your mouth, they pull something like that against Minnesota.

"Last year doesn't have anything to do with this year," UNC coach Roy Williams scoffed. "We just stunk."

Yes, Minnesota is better than Hofstra but it's more about Carolina than it is the opponent. In other words, you have to be consistent. You can't shoot the eyes out of it one night and the very next night can't buy a basket, even with open looks.

"I've tried to erase last year from my mind," Williams said.

It won't be easy with performances like this.

The Tar Heels shot just 37 percent from the floor and only 60 percent from the free throw line. Carolina, 2-1, plays in the consolation game in Puerto Rico at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

For a full game story, please click here.

Handful of Triangle teams still in the football playoff hunt

The playoffs for high school football started last week and my prediction record was 12-1 for Triangle-area teams. Games tonight are at 7:30 p.m. In bold below are the predicted winners. My record of predicting games in the regular season was 97-23, which is an 81 percent accuracy.

Douglas Byrd @ Cardinal Gibbons

Fuquay-Varina @ Panther Creek

Middle Creek @ Garner

Purnell Swett @ Hillside

Southern Durham @ Southeast Raleigh

Wakefield @ Wake Forest-Rolesville

Check the scores in our Sports Roundup on the left navigation bar. Good luck to Cardinal Gibbons - I hope I'm wrong.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lots of players contribute for Carolina in a rout of Hofstra

North Carolina had 10 players who played 13 minutes or more in the game against Hofstra in Puerto Rico during the Tar Heels' 107-63 victory. Even more impressive was that the most minutes anyone played was 25 - by Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller.

Barnes is getting all the attention nationally but this is shaping up to be a pretty deep Carolina team - even if the Heels were only playing Hofstra.

For instance, bench players contributed greatly. Kendall Marshall dished out a team-high nine assists while Leslie McDonald scored 16 and Justin Watts scored 13. In addition, transfer Justin Knox had eight points and eight rebounds in 17 minutes of play.

Barnes led the way with 19 points, all in the first half, while John Henson scored 12 and Zeller and Dexter Strickland tallied 11 each. Point guards Larry Drew II and Marshall combined for 15 assists and just three turnovers.

For a game story, please click here. For a photo gallery, please click here.

Harrow, overlooked by Lebo, is on the brink of command


When East Carolina basketball coach Jeff Lebo was on the David Glenn radio show this week, he raved about two N.C. State freshmen, Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie.

Well, there's a third, and that one, Ryan Harrow, made an indelible impact in the 85-65 win over ECU Thursday in Charleston, S.C., that showed why he should soon be starting.

State has an experienced guard in senior Javy Gonzalez, who started again Thursday. Gonzalez had just four points in 10 minutes while Harrow ran the show. Harrow contributed 11 points, 10 assists and had only two turnovers in 28 minutes of action.

You don't have to be a genius to see where this is headed.

Lowe raved about Gonzalez in preseason, and you can understand how a coach doesn't want to bench a senior right away. But Gonzalez is not a lead guard on a great college team. He's a scrappy player who won't hurt you in limited time.

Harrow is completely different. He's quick, creative and has an explosive element to his game. His squeaky voice makes him sound 13 years old but in reality he seems quite mature and ready for the college game.

Sure, Harrow is only 5 feet 11 and there remain uncertainties about him. Can he guard top players in the ACC? Can he hit from the outside? And, perhaps most importantly, can he manage a team that will be a blend of veterans and confident freshmen?

Harrow didn't start Thursday, but he showed his time is now. He should play - and plenty. It's only a matter of when before Harrow assumes command of this Wolfpack team.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Carolina might just match State's intensity this time around

UNC coach Butch Davis said after last week's 26-10 loss to Virginia Tech that eliminated the Tar Heels from any chance at the ACC championship game, it's important to bounce back psychologically and emotionally this week. Being that this week's game is at home against a good N.C. State team that is a chief rival, that will help the Heels "get over the funk of last week's game," Davis said.

He said it's an important week for the Tar Heels, who are looking to fix their problems from last week's game, mostly the six turnovers. It's important especially to the 17 seniors who in three tries have yet to beat the Wolfpack. But some observers claim that the State players care more about the rivalry in good measure because State coach Tom O'Brien stresses the rivalry aspect of the game each year.

"I have no idea what they stress," Davis said. "We want to play extremely well every single week. Obviously certain games are going to carry more magnitude but if you are going to win the ACC, you gotta win all the ACC games, not just play well in one game."

The strategies have worked somewhat for both coaches. O'Brien's players have seemed more fired up and focused on beating the Tar Heels when the two play while UNC has had a better overall record over the last three seasons. This year State (7-3) comes in with the better record and Carolina (6-4), though depleted as well documented, seems to be fired up and focused themselves this time around.

"It's very important to our football team and the program," Davis said.

Senior Deunta Williams said, "We can't go out on no 'L.' That's just what we're thinking about, in our last game at Kenan, especially against N.C. State."

Calgary GM trades son to Canes after bar fight charges

One of the newest Carolina Hurricanes was involved in a bar fight recently, which may have been one reason his father, the general manager of the Calgary Flames, decided to trade him.

According to the Calgary Herald, Brett Sutter is facing assault charges related to a fight at a Scottsdale, Ariz., bar last week. Sutter was sent to the minors Monday. His father is Calgary GM Darry Sutter and his uncle is Calgary coach Brent Sutter. Brent Sutter is the father of Canes player Brandon Sutter.

Needless to say, none of that was mentioned in the Canes' official news release.

O'Brien believes finale of 2009 UNC win set the tone for this year

N.C. State players were exhuberant last season when the Wolfpack blocked North Carolina’s 38-yard field goal with 4:44 to play, but State coach Tom O’Brien showed no emotion on the sideline.

O’Brien knew this wild game at Carter-Finley Stadium still hung in the balance, and the coming minutes would prove decisive for State, and have an impact on the 2010 season.

The Wolfpack is now 7-3 and needs a win Saturday in Chapel Hill to keep alive its hopes for its first ACC title since 1979. The seeds of this season’s success date back to last season, when State calmly ground down Carolina in the final minutes with a critical drive after that blocked field goal.

Russell Wilson hit Toney Baker for a 16-yard pass and Baker ran 14 yards as State pushed out to the UNC 47-yard line with 3:31 to play.

The Heels called time, and O’Brien motioned Wilson to come to over to him. When Wilson didn’t come all the way, O’Brien demaned he come further. Relax, O’Brien said. Be smart. Finish it off. And Wlson did, hitting Owen Spencer on a perfect throw for a first down on thrd-and-11. State didn’t relinquish the ball until only 23 seconds remained and won, 28-27.

Asked Wednesday if that game “carried over,” O’Brien said, “I think certainly it did. You go back to even the year before - Russell going down at halftime of the bowl of game was a harbinger [of the 2009 season]. By the same token, the last game we had last year, I think that set the table for where we were headed and what we were going and the belief we could be a good football team.

“We’ve shown the ability. We’re 7-3 but the three losses are all in overtime, in the last minute, last three minutes.”

N.C. State finished last season only 5-7, its fourth straight losing season and third under O’Brien. But asked to assess his program overall, O’Brien said, “I think we’re definitely on the way. We had some situations the last two years that didn’t allow us to get into the position we are in today.”

Now, State has seven wins for the first time since 2005.

“It speaks volumes to where the program is headed,” O’Brien said. “We came in here, we had a plan, we stuck to our plan. We plan was set back by defections and injuries and not having a consistency on the field.”

That plan got a big lift last year in the final minutes of that win over UNC.

Cool video of Russell Wilson's high school games


How did so many ACC schools miss on Russell Wilson? Who knows? Even the University of Virginia passed on him. Whatever you think of Chuck Amato, he sure left Tom O'Brien with a great quarterback for his program.

With Wilson headed toward what might be his last game against North Carolina, here is an interesting look from YouTube of Wilson's days at the Collegiate School in Richmond, Va. If you were a college coach, would you have wanted this elusive runner with a strong, accurate arm? Absolutely.

Curry's impact at Duke reminds one of his father's Hornets days


You can't help but wonder, when you watch Duke play, how Seth Curry wound up signing with Liberty after his older brother, Stephen, was overlooked by ACC schools.

Much of the talk so far about Duke has been about Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith and the impact of the true freshmen. But what's interesting is how easily Curry is fitting into the Duke rotation. Obviously, he had a year to practice with the team, but his impact on Duke, and perhaps the ACC, can't be overstated.

Curry's father, Dell, was  the Charlotte Hornets' first pick in the expansion draft back in 1988. He was a brilliant shooter out of Virginia Tech with a smooth stroke and quick release. Curry, Rex Chapman and Kelly Tripucka were about all the offense those early Hornets ever had.

You can see Dell Curry, who wore No. 30, in the YouTube video above. The Hornet wearing No. 25 is Tony Bennett, now the Virginia head coach. Watching Seth Curry brings back memories of that Curry jump shot from the Charlotte Coliseum's heyday.

Seth Curry is headed toward being one of the ACC's best players this season. He had 17 points Tuesday in the 79-45 win over Miami (Ohio), and played only 22 minutes.

This is a deep Duke team, but if you've followed the Blue Devils program, you have heard that before. Coach Mike Krzyzewski often talks in November about how he can play 10 guys, but that rotation shortens to around seven by conference play in January. Some of the Blue Devils you are seeing on the floor now will be weeded out by then.

It's hard to see that happening with Curry. His game is so fluid, and his stroke is so pure, that you watch him and think, Wow, he's going to make a difference this season. His father was one of the NBA's top sixth men, a calm scorer who could enter a game at any time and start producing points, and Seth Curry is headed toward a similar role for the Blue Devils.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Steelers cut former Tar Heel, pick up former Redskin

The Pittsburgh Steelers have cut former UNC kicker Jeff Reed after eight seasons over which he became the 12th most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history. They have replaced him with former Washington Redskins' kicker Shaun Suisham.

Reed missed a 26-yarder against the Patriots Sunday. He blamed a slippery turf at Heinz Field. In October Reed missed a 49 yarder and a 45 yarder in a 17-14 loss to Baltimore. He has missed seven of 22 attempts overall this year.

"Some big kicks, I've missed some important kicks," Reed said following the Steelers' 39-26 loss to New England. "It's sports. It's not an excuse, but it's life. You can't sit back and say, man, you've been an 85 percent (kicker) and now you're whatever percentage. I've lost track. It hurts me that I don't help this team get points."

Reed, 31, has two Super Bowl rings with the Steelers. He still holds the UNC record for most consecutive extra points with 66 in 2000 and 2001 and the record for highest percentage of field goals made at 87.5 percent.

Suisham, 28, a Canadian, kicked at Bowling Green and has kicked for both the Cowboys and Redskins.

Reed has had some off-field issues. Last season, he got into an alcohol-induced dispute with Pittsburgh police and performed 40 hours of community service. There was another incident where Reed paid a fine after being accused of property damage and harassment at a convenience store.

UNC's Ramsay, McAdoo ruled permanently ineligible; Carolina to appeal

University of North Carolina football student-athletes Devon Ramsay and Michael McAdoo have been ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA.

North Carolina will appeal the decision to the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement, an independent panel comprised of representatives from NCAA member colleges, universities and athletic conferences. This committee can reduce or remove the condition. The student-athletes remain ineligible until the conclusion of the appeals process.

“While we respect the decision, the facts of the cases simply do not support permanent ineligibility,” says Dick Baddour, North Carolina Director of Athletics. “We will aggressively appeal and are hopeful the reinstatement committee will reach the same conclusion.”

A junior from Red Bank, N.J., Ramsay played in the first four games of the 2010 season and had two catches for 15 yards, including a touchdown vs. LSU. He was withheld from competition beginning with the Clemson game on Oct. 9 and has not returned. The NCAA enforcement staff will not require UNC to forfeit the two wins in which Ramsay played this year.

A junior defensive end from Antioch, Tenn., McAdoo has not played this season.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Taylor burned Carolina last Saturday - Is it Wilson's turn this Saturday?

Last week weekend, North Carolina, playing on its home field, was burned by Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. This weekend, Carolina, 6-4, plays at home against a quarterback that can scramble and run like Taylor but who has a better arm. Does that spell disaster for the Tar Heels against rival N.C. State?

Well, if they turn the ball over like they did last week, yes. "If you turn the ball over six times and don't create turnovers, that's a killer," UNC coach Butch Davis said. "You can't win that way."

Especially against State. Davis said that on film State's Nate Irving looks like the best linebacker the Heels have faced. Plus, State quarterback Russell Wilson extends plays with his legs but he also throws very well, he said. In comparing Wilson with VT's Taylor, Davis said that Wilson's accuracy in throwing down the field and his arm strength is the difference.

“They’ve played very well this season,” Davis said of the Wolfpack. “In my personal opinion, against somebody in this big of a rivalry game, I don’t know how much records actually matter… There’s an awful lot of the kids that play the game and alumni that are around each other, they know each other and they see each other on a daily basis and so it’s obviously going to carry an enormous amount of significance.”

The Wolfpack, 7-3, has a chance to play for the ACC title if they can win out. So, this is more than a rivalry game. As CapitalSports' Dane Huffman pointed out, that fact isn't lost on N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien. But then he said this:

"There's not any more on the line than any time we play North Carolina," O'Brien said. "It's a game that's very special and very important to our school. ... There's no added significance one way or another. Now the bonus is if we win, we keep going."

As Davis said, "it's a game that everybody associated with this program wants to win very badly."

O'Brien doesn't downplay impact of State's game with UNC

Coaches love to downplay games, don't they? Given that, isn't it refreshing to hear N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien talk about the North Carolina game?

One aspect of the NCSU culture that Herb Sendek never seemed to embrace was the ferocity of this rivalry. O'Brien takes a totally different approach, as he did again Monday when addressing the game.

"That’s the carrot to win the game, to get to the ACC championship," O'Brien told the media, according to newsobserver.com. "As I said Saturday, the road to Charlotte goes through Chapel Hill. You have to get through Chapel Hill. Well, if you’re at N.C. State and you’re part of this football program, you have to win in Chapel Hill anyway.

"It’s something that is part of the culture here. We accept that fact and our kids have really risen to the occasion, have played well anytime we’ve played against North Carolina since I’ve been here."

O'Brien, of course, is 3-0 against UNC and coach Butch Davis.

Duke's Irving, State's Leslie earn weekly ACC basketball honors

Duke’s Kyrie Irving and NC State’s C.J. Leslie were named Atlantic Coast Conference Co-Rookies of the Week following their outstanding performances this past week.

Irving had 17 points, four rebounds, a freshman season-opener record nine assists, one block and two steals in 25 minutes of play as the top-ranked Blue Devils opened their season with a 97-60 win over Princeton on Sunday. The West Orange, N.J., native was 3-of-6 from three-point range and 6-of-6 from the foul line, while committing just one turnover.

Leslie came off the bench to help lead the Wolfpack to a 82-69 win over Tennessee Tech in the season opener Friday night at the RBC Center. The Holly Springs native finished with a game-high 21 points, hitting on 7-of-10 from the field and 7-of-11 from the free throw line in his 31 minutes. Leslie also finished with six rebounds and six assists in the Pack’s 17th consecutive season-opening win.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Opener shows finding the right chemistry is key for Pack basketball

N.C. State fans are starved for a winner in basketball, which is why this season is so anticipated. Watching Sidney Lowe's previous teams could be dreadful at times, with plodding basketball and lineups that lacked the talent of State's Triangle rivals.

Now, though, N.C. State has some real players of its own, as the freshmen showed in Friday's 82-69 opening win over Tennessee Tech. That's hardly a thumping one might expect against a foe of that caliber, but the story of the game was the play of the freshmen.

C.J. Leslie had 21 points, Ryan Harrow 16 and Lorenzo Brown 14 - a pretty strong effort for a first attempt. But what State fans will watch closely is how those new players merge with the returning cast. Tracy Smith, who certainly expects to be the hub of this team, made only 2 of 8 shots for 10 points. Scott Wood had 11.

A player Lowe raved about in preseason, point guard Javier Gonzalez, made only 1 of 4 shos for four points and had only three assists in 26 minutes of action. Harrow made just 4 of 12 tries but had some electrifying moves in his 24 minutes.

All this makes you wonder how long some of the established players will keep their minutes, and how Lowe will balance the time with multiple players expecting to be on the court. State struggled with chemistry when J.J. Hickson was on the team, and even Dean Smith, with UNC in 1994, struggled to blend a group of talented veterans with a freshman class that expected to play right away.

If Lowe can find the right chemistry, then State has a chance to be exciting. Brown is the only freshman who started and he's a tough, physical player with an advanced build. Richard Howell did little on Friday but he's also a big body who gives State depth up front.

Lowe's advantage is he finally has real competition for playing time - no more keeping guys on the floor because there is no talent on the bench. That could make for a fun year for Wolfpack fans, who would love to see the RBC Center buzzing for more than just the Carolina game.

UNC women’s soccer wins; men’s team loses

The North Carolina women’s soccer team advanced in the NCAA tournament today in Chapel Hill while the men’s team fell in the finals of the ACC championships in Cary.

Freshman Crystal Dunn scored two goals as the Tar Heels beat James Madison, who was in the game until the 65th minute, by a 3-1 score.

Dunn isn’t only known for her ability to score as she is the first freshman in ACC history to be named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Carolina, now 19-2-2, hosts Notre Dame on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Fetzer Field.

The Carolina men weren’t as fortunate as a controversial handball call on UNC’s Enzo Martinez led to a penalty kick goal for Maryland, which won the title 1-0 at WakeMed Soccer Stadium.

The team and fans were already mad at the officials because the Heels, who were the top seed coming into the tournament, had to play the final 55 minutes down a man as UNC’s Michael Farfan, an All-ACC midfielder, was ejected for a sliding tackle.

The loss was the first in 13 games for Carolina, now 16-3-1.

Carolina is expected to receive a bye in the 48-team NCAA tournament field, which will be announced on ESPNU at 4:30 p.m. Monday.