Marquetta Dickens added 15 points for the Wolfpack (19-8, 8-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who snapped a seven-game losing streak against their instate rival on a night when the university honored longtime coach Kay Yow.
Erlana Larkins scored 16 points for the Tar Heels (25-2, 9-2), who nearly overcame a disastrous first half and twice got as close as three points in the final minutes. But the Wolfpack held on, getting a clutch jumper from Ashley Key with the shot clock winding down to help avoid a crushing loss on an emotional night.
After LaToya Pringle had scored inside to make it 66-63 with 2:02 left, Key knocked down a jumper on the right wing over Ivory Latta to push the lead back to five and take some momentum back from the charging Tar Heels.
The Tar Heels came up empty on the ensuing possessions until Latta - who struggled through a 10-point, 5-for-21 shooting day - scored on a putback to cut the lead to 68-65 with 21.3 seconds left. But Key went 4-for-4 at the line in the final seconds to seal it, setting off an on-court victory party.
Before the game, N.C. State held a ceremony to name the court at Reynolds Coliseum after Yow, a Hall of Fame coach who led the 1988 U.S. women's team to a gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Yow is in her 32nd season as head coach here, compiling a record of 702-322 in 36 seasons overall and leading the Wolfpack to four ACC Tournament titles, 19 NCAA Tournaments and the 1998 Final Four. But for many, Yow has been best defined by her courageous fight against breast cancer.
First diagnosed in 1987, Yow missed 16 games this season after doctors found the cancer that first recurred during the 2004-05 season had progressed. The Wolfpack had won five of six games coming in since Yow's return and rode a wave of emotion to jump out to a 44-18 lead late in the first half.