Notebook: Watts' play saves UNC

North Carolina coach Roy Williams called guard Justin Watts’ steal with about five seconds left in the game “probably the play of the game.” After Tar Heels guard Kendall Marshall scored to give North Carolina a 69-67 lead with 10 seconds remaining, the Wolfpack pushed the ball ahead, and forward Scott Wood had the ball in 3-point range. Harrison Barnes rushed to challenge him, leaving N.C. State center DeShawn Painter alone under the basket.

“I saw someone [Painter] doing jumping jacks out of the corner of my eye,” Watts said. “I didn’t know who it was, but I knew he didn’t have a Carolina jersey on, so I just tried to run as hard as I could to get there.”

Watts intended to deflect Wood’s pass to Painter, but his speed enabled him to catch it. Falling out of bounds, he lobbed it down court to run down the clock, leaving the Wolfpack 1.2 seconds when guard Alex Johnson recovered it and called timeout.

In the shadows

Tar Heels guard Reggie Bullock finished with five points, but had an undeniable imprint on the game. Bullock was the principal defender on Wood, the Wolfpack’s 3-point sniper. In 35 minutes, Wood finished with two points on 1-for-6 shooting, his season scoring low outside of one game in which he played two minutes and didn’t take a shot.

In ACC games this season, N.C. State was 8-0 when Wood scored 12 or more points and 1-7 when he scored 11 or less. In the Wolfpack’s three losses to the Tar Heels, Wood scored 16 points with four 3-pointers.

Bullock also contributed six assists and five rebounds.

“Those are things that may not be talked about in the postgame media, but that’s the player of the game right there,” Marshall said of Bullock.

Waiting game

The Wolfpack will be at the mercy of the NCAA tournament selection committee after its semifinal loss. The Wolfpack’s RPI ranking before the game was No. 49. In his postgame comments, Williams said he would fight for N.C. State to be included if he were on the selection committee.

N.C. State is 22-12 and has played a tough schedule. However, its best RPI win is against Texas, ranked No. 48 on Saturday.

“I’m not on the committee, but I think our team has earned the right to play in the tournament,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.