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January 26, 2010RALEIGH, N.C. - The visitors' locker room at the RBC Center was filled with the usual sounds: two televisions chattering, bags of ice crinkling, equipment clattering and happy voices laughing.
Metaphorically speaking, all of those noises combined to sound a lot like a sigh of relief for North Carolina.
In their first week as an unranked team after appearing in 75 straight Associated Press polls, the Tar Heels snapped a three-game losing streak with a 77-63 win against N.C. State.
"This is the most noise I've heard in the locker room in a long time," UNC point guard Larry Drew II said. "It feels good."
Senior guard Marcus Ginyard said, "Just come in here and listen. It's a much better feeling for sure."
The Tar Heels (13-7, 2-3 in the ACC) have now won seven straight games against the Wolfpack (13-8, 2-5) but none that they needed as badly as they did this one.
Forget that it was a rivalry game.
Carolina needed this one just to stop the losing streak and earn its first win this season in a true road game.
"I hope it gives them a little confidence," UNC coach Roy Williams said.
It was far from a great performance, but the fact that Carolina held State to 39 percent shooting in the second half-including missing 12 straight field-goal attempts at one point-said something about its defense.
The fact that Carolina hit 15 of its final 18 field goal attempts and only turned the ball over 10 times in the game said something about its offense.
And the fact that Carolina came back to win after trailing by five in the second half showed there is some fight left in the Tar Heels despite the terrible start to league play.
Deon Thompson's 20 points were the most he has scored since a win over Nevada at the end of November.
Drew's 18 points were a career high, and he had seven assists against a single turnover.
A couple of freshmen had good games, too, with Dexter Strickland scoring 14 points and John Henson blocking three shots in seven minutes of play.
It also certainly helped to have sophomore forward Ed Davis, who scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds, back in the lineup after he missed a game with a sprained ankle.
Williams didn't decide until 13 minutes before tipoff to allow Davis to play, though he noted the sophomore "had already lobbied a great deal for it."
Given how desperate the Tar Heels were for a win in this game, it was no surprise when Davis admitted afterward that he might have fibbed to Williams to skirt the fact that the coach said Davis wouldn't play unless his ankle was at least 90 percent healthy.
"I knew I was going to play no matter what," Davis said. "I told the guys before the game, if we lose this game, our season is just about over."
Instead, they added to their own jubilation by watching as the televisions in the locker room showed No. 1 Kentucky falling to South Carolina. As the score made its way around the room, Henson called out, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!"
But even the freshman knew that for the good times to last beyond one night, Carolina needed to build on the things that created the positive locker-room vibes in the first place.
"Right now, we're fighting for our lives," Henson said. "We've got to play like that every game."
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