Three Points from N.C. State's 76-65 loss at UNC:
1) C.J. Leslie, period.
Mark Gottfried tried benching C.J. Leslie and he tried letting him play through his problems on Saturday at the Smith Center.
Since he was hired 22 months ago, Gottfried has run through just about every option in the coach-player relationship handbook with Leslie. Gottfried calls Leslie "Calvin" instead of C.J., he has made him the primary option of the offense, he has coddled him and he has disciplined him.
For the most part, he has coaxed the best out of Leslie, who has led the team in scoring over the course of Gottfried's 64-game tenure.
Gottfried exhausted one of his final options with Leslie after Saturday's loss by publicly calling out his star forward. Gottfried has challenged Leslie privately but he has never used a public forum, like the post-game press conference, to single out Leslie. And he has had multiple opportunities to do so but the coach never did, not until Saturday.
"He's a great player and great players got to step up and play, period," Gottfried said. "I love him as much as anybody but when you're a good player, then you have to play better."
Gottfried questioned Leslie's turnovers, six in all, four of which came in the first 5 minutes and 21 seconds of the game. Gottfried also questioned Leslie's rebounding effort. The coach pointed out that senior forward Richard Howell finished with 17 rebounds, compared to four for Leslie.
"Are we expecting Richard to get 30 rebounds?" Gottfried said. "I mean, holy mackerel, somebody else has to rebound the ball. Calvin has to step up, period."
Leslie finished the game with six points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and six turnovers in 30 minutes. He was 3 of 8 from the floor and 0 of 4 from the free-throw line.
The most-telling number, however, was his plus-minus.
Leslie was a minus-27 in 30 minutes against the Tar Heels on Saturday, meaning State was out-scored by 27 points when Leslie was on the floor. The Pack only lost the game by 11 points.
To put that number in perspective, arguably the worst performance of Leslie's career was at Virginia as a freshman. He was a minus-26, in 19 minutes, in that 69-58 loss.
By comparison, Leslie's worst outing this season before Saturday was a miserable 20-point loss to Oklahoma State. Leslie was only a minus-12 in 17 minutes in that game.
But here's what really makes it difficult to get a handle on Leslie: In the previous game, Tuesday's win over Florida State, he was a plus-20 in 38 minutes.
Gottfried knows he needs Leslie, that's why he brought him back into the game with 11:37 left on Saturday after letting him watch for almost nine minutes to start the half.
State found a temporary groove, building a 49-45 lead, without Leslie but that's not who they are and Gottfried knows it.
The second-year coach also knows he had to try to send a message to Leslie in the post-game. "He's fine," has always been Gottfried's stock answer to the "What's wrong with C.J. Leslie?" question.
Gottfried changed his response on Saturday. Leslie has a minimum of six games left in his college career to change his.
2) Same teams, different result
When N.C. State beat UNC 91-83 on Jan. 26, the Wolfpack scored 39 points in transition. State had four points on the fastbreak on Saturday. That's a difference of 35 points, that's almost comical.
When N.C. State beat UNC 91-83 on Jan. 26, point guard Lorenzo Brown was the best player on the floor. He had 20 points and 11 assists and was the primary reason for all those fastbreak points.
On Saturday, Brown wasn't even the best point guard on the floor. UNC freshman Marcus Paige, who by his own coach's account played "so poorly" in Raleigh, finished with 14 points, eight assists and no turnovers in 31 minutes on Saturday.
Brown had 12 points and 12 dimes but he was loose with the ball (four turnovers) and too tentative at the start of the game. N.C. State's strategy was to attack P.J. Hairston with C.J. Leslie. Leslie's early turnovers scotched that plan and backfired.
Leslie, by the way, had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the first meeting in Raleigh. He finished with six and four on Saturday.
What's interesting about the first game, N.C. State led by 28 with 13 minutes left in that game. UNC cut that lead to five points in the final 30 seconds.
After the game, State's players and coach Mark Gottfried dismissed the meaning of UNC's comeback (as did Roy Williams) but it at least provided the Tar Heels a seed of confidence for the rematch.
That's why, when given the opportunity, you finish teams off when you're up 28, instead of letting them hope against hope for another day.
3) A UNC/Duke comparison
The emergence of P.J. Hairston for UNC is not as startling as Elliot Williams' for Duke in 2008-09, but it does have some parallels.
Before Williams transferred to Memphis and jumped to the NBA, he was a little-used reserve on Mike Krzyzewski's bench for 22 games. Then, after a game against Miami on Feb. 7, Krzyzewski put Williams in the starting lineup to get quicker and more athletic, and to jumpstart the team.
Williams, a freshman guard, started 11 of Duke's final 12 games, the Devils went 10-2 over that stretch, won the ACC title and reached the Sweet 16.
After a game against Miami, on Feb. 9, Roy Williams decided to start Hairston, a sophomore guard, to get quicker and more athletic and, maybe, jumpstart the season. You can't argue with the results, three wins in four games and the loss was by five points at Duke.
Roy Williams, by the way, long criticized by his own fan base despite winning two national titles in five years, pushed every right button on Saturday. It's not just using Hairston more or sticking with Marcus Paige or even shortening his rotation (only six players played at least 10 minutes on Saturday, compared to 10 in the Heels' loss in Raleigh). It's getting his team to believe.
The Tar Heels could have packed it up after any number of bad losses this season, the Texas debacle on Dec. 19 remains notable in that regard. Williams hasn't let his team do that.
This is not Williams' best team, he knows that and the players know that, but they're getting better as the season get longer and that's the mark of a good coach.