Over the years, very few struggling North Carolina basketball teams have been able to find a fix in N.C. State's gyms. This season may be an exception.
Expecting to deliver a possible knockout punch to the Tar Heels, the Wolfpack on Tuesday night went to the trouble of bringing back the noise meter from David Thompson's heyday in the 1970s. Tommy Burleson was there at courtside. Chris Corchiani and his No. 13 jersey were honored at halftime. The joint, at times, was jumping like the days of old, back on campus in Reynolds Coliseum.
None of it worked against a battered Carolina club that essentially was fighting for its basketball life. The magic State hoped to spring could only be found early in Tracy Smith's power moves around the basket and later in Javi Gonzalez's jumpers.
But once the Tar Heels were able to slow Smith and weather Gonzalez, there was nothing left for State to do but lose again, 77-63, in what has become a one-sided rivalry.
"Our lack of aggression, especially on the boards, was very disappointing," State coach Sidney Lowe said. "They just outplayed us."
North Carolina (13-7, 2-3 ACC) entered the game as a modest one-point favorite and on the heels of successive league losses to Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Clemson. The timing seemed so ripe for State (13-8, 2-5) to make trouble that Roy Williams was front-and-center among the wary.
"Obviously I'd prefer to be playing at home in our place and against an easy team to beat," Williams said earlier in the week. "Unfortunately, that's not going to happen at this point. We just have to deal with the schedule and try to get better as we go along."
The Tar Heels coach is dead-on that Carolina can expect only opponents' Sunday punches in the 11 remaining regular-season games. Even in a league that has only one representative in this week's Associated Press top 20, the Heels know they won't get a free pass anywhere.
But State, in its first RBC appearance since upsetting Duke by 14 points, had difficulty generating momentum and even more difficulty maintaining it. Freshman Scott Wood and senior Dennis Horner, who punished Duke's defense, could do little or nothing right, combining for a 3-for-16 shooting performance that wound up putting too much offensive pressure on Gonzalez (19 points) and Smith (20).
It didn't help that Lowe decided to pull Smith upon getting his third foul with 16:09 left. State was up 43-38 at that stage but quickly fell behind and wasn't able to retaliate when Smith returned.
Carolina, meanwhile, got huge performances from guards Larry Drew II and Dexter Strickland, who combined for 32 points, eight assists and a perfectly acceptable three turnovers. Drew had committed 14 turnovers during the previous three games. Drew responded with the kind of performance his teammates expected to see all season.
The long-term impact of Carolina's win probably won't be known for a while.
But it is worth remembering that Carolina teams have survived ugly slumps before.
The 2006-07 team lost three of five in February but went on to win ACC title and reach the final game of the NCAA East Regional.
In 1999-2000, Bill Guthridge's last UNC team lost four straight and dropped a dozen in the regular season, but found itself in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Final Four.
Dean Smith's last team lost three straight and was 2-4 in the ACC at one point. That team also finally came around, winning 28 games and getting to the Final Four.
Williams can remind this group of players about those recoveries - if he hasn't done so already. But words of encouragement weren't what the Tar Heels needed Tuesday. They needed to make a stand in a dangerous situation. They were up to it.