Feb. 18, 2009

(AP) - Behind Ty Lawson's stellar play over the past month, North Carolina's awful ACC start is a distant memory and a third straight conference title is in sight.

Lawson looks to continue his surge and lead the third-ranked Tar Heels to their 10th straight victory Wednesday night when they host North Carolina State.

North Carolina (23-2, 9-2) opened a two-game conference lead with five contests remaining following Sunday's 69-65 win at Miami, coupled with losses for Duke and Clemson earlier in the day. The Tar Heels have come a long way since opening league play with consecutive losses to Boston College and then-No. 4 Wake Forest.

"Better than being two games behind like it was when we started," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.

The Tar Heels took control of the ACC in last Wednesday's 101-87 victory at Duke. Lawson scored 21 of his season-high 25 points after halftime against the Blue Devils, and had another clutch performance Sunday.

While All-American Tyler Hansbrough was held to eight points and four rebounds, Lawson scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half, including the game-sealing 3-pointer with 10.6 seconds left.

The Hurricanes pulled within one point on three separate occasions in the final 5 minutes, but each time Lawson made a 3-pointer, part of his 5-for-7 effort from beyond the arc in the second half.

As Lawson goes, seemingly so go the Tar Heels.

The junior point guard is averaging 17.8 points on 61.6 percent shooting -- including 57.6 percent from 3-point range -- and 6.3 assists during North Carolina's nine-game winning streak. He averaged 9.5 points, 4.5 assists, 4.0 turnovers and shot 28.0 percent in the two losses.

"He is the glue to their team," North Carolina State coach Sidney Lowe said. "What I've seen in him is a player that's certainly capable of doing a lot, but he knows he's got a lot of help around him. He's doing his thing and playing his role, but if you notice where the team ever gets into some type of lull, you'll see him get even more aggressive."

Lawson had 16 points and five assists in a 93-76 win over the Wolfpack (14-9, 4-6) on Jan. 31 in Raleigh.

Hansbrough had one of his better games of the season against NC State, finishing with 31 points while shooting 12-for-17 and adding six rebounds. The 6-foot-9 senior is averaging 25.3 points and 10.3 boards in three games against the Wolfpack since the start of last season.

The Tar Heels have won five straight over NC State since an 83-79 loss on Feb. 3, 2007, 11 of the last 12 meetings overall, and five straight at home in the series. However, this time the Wolfpack travel to Chapel Hill on a bit of a roll.

After beating then-No. 7 Wake Forest 82-76 last Wednesday, NC State defeated Georgia Tech 86-65 on Saturday for its first ACC road victory of the season.

The Wolfpack shot a season-high 61.4 percent from the floor and made 9 of 17 3-point attempts in the win over the Yellow Jackets. They are averaging 85.5 points on 52.1 percent shooting in their last four games.

Courtney Fells had a team-high 22 points against North Carolina 2 1/2 weeks ago, while NC State leading scorer Brandon Costner finished with 13.

Costner, who is averaging 15.0 points, scored 10 on Saturday.

The Wolfpack, who are 1-4 against ranked opponents this season, have not won three consecutive conference games since winning five in a row Jan. 21-Feb. 8, 2006.