CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Herb Sendek makes no bones about needing an extraordinary effort to beat the No. 1 team in the country. The North Carolina State coach got his share of distinguished performances Saturday in an 86-72 upset of top-ranked North Carolina.
For starters, the 21-point underdog Wolfpack got a career-high 31 points from C.C. Harrison, 16 points and seven steals from fellow senior Ishua Benjamin and had ice in their veins down the stretch by making 25 straight free throws.
"N.C. State played a perfect game, what else can you say?" said North Carolina star Antawn Jamison. "Usually an N.C. State team will get rattled and things will turn around, but they did a terrific job.
"I expected to just come out and beat this team," Ed Cota added. "I guess this gets us back to reality. You can't take any team for granted."
The Wolfpack (15-11, 5-9 Atlantic Coast Conference) beat the Tar Heels while they were No. 1 for the second time in four seasons, also downing top-ranked North Carolina 80-70 on Jan. 4, 1995, in Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh.
It was in stark contrast to a season ago in the Smith Center when Benjamin fumbled away several chances as the Tar Heels rallied from nine points down in the final 2:09, scoring the final 12 points to pull out the win.
"Coming into this season a lot of scrutiny I got came from playing against Carolina," said Benjamin. "To have the type of game I had today was pretty good. I think I went out on a good foot. No matter what people can say is I didn't give up or quit. I stuck with it and I fought through it."
North Carolina (26-2, 12-2) saw its nine-game winning streak end and the Tar Heels fell a full game behind ACC-leading Duke with two league games to play. North Carolina visits No. 2 Duke next Saturday and can still gain the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament by beating the Blue Devils and Wake Forest on Tuesday night.
The Wolfpack won despite making only seven baskets in the second half, including two over the final 13:24. But N.C. State, the second-best free-throw shooting team in the ACC, made 25 straight free throws and 30 of 32 for the game to nail down the stunning upset of the Tar Heels, who hadn't played in a week.
"We hope we can learn from this," said North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge. "Some asked if the week off would help us, I guess the answer is obvious. We had some good practices and some time off but it didn't work out."
Harrison made 10 of 14 shots from the field, including an 8-of-9 effort from 3-point range, to surpass his previous high point total by two. Kenny Inge added 16 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks for his fourth straight double-double.
"A win like this is kind of like winning the national championship for us," said Benjamin. "We haven't had a full team all season but we're got guys coming back in and really stepping their games up.
"We came in here and a lot of people didn't think we could do it," Benjamin added. "We probably shocked the nation by winning this game. Now we have to see how we handle it."
Shammond Williams led North Carolina with 23 points, while Jamison added 20 as the Tar Heels shot 37.1 percent in the second half.
The Wolfpack's six-point halftime lead grew to as many as 13 with 13:25 left as Harrison made his eighth straight 3-pointer. It was the first attempt by N.C. State from long range in the second half after it went 9-of-11 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.
They would score two more hoops the rest of the way, but were deadly from the foul line, making 27 of 28 in the second half as the nation's No. 1 shooting team couldn't buy a basket and were beaten on the boards and to most of the loose balls in dropping only its second ACC game in 25 tries.
Harrison made seven straight 3-pointers in a 16-minute span of the first half to put on one of the best shooting displays in ACC history. The senior guard hit three long-range shots in a span of 1:42 early on as the Wolfpack led most of the opening half despite starting no true point guard for the first time this season.
"I just think I was in that zone," Harrison said. "Anytime I caught the ball I was looking for my shot. My teammates, they were telling me to shoot it and were looking for me coming off screens."
The big lineup seemed to work against the rusty Tar Heels. N.C. State missed its first 3-point attempt and last one of the half but made nine straight in between for a 44-38 halftime lead.