Terquavion Smith’s damage gives scary point of view in UNC-NC State contention recreation

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This was the moment every athlete fears: one of their own, unable to walk away on their own accord. Paramedics arriving with a stretcher. An arena, moments earlier so full of energy and noise, transformed into silence.

That was the scene here on Saturday midway through the second half between North Carolina and N.C. State. Suddenly the score didn’t matter. The game’s circumstances didn’t matter. All that mattered, then, was Terquavion Smith, the Wolfpack’s sophomore guard.

He’d taken a hard fall after going up for a breakaway layup. Leaky Black, the Tar Heels’ senior forward, had tried to defend it — but in the process his arm came down on Smith’s face and neck, and Smith crashed to the floor without the ability to brace himself.

For several minutes he laid there, able to move his legs but not able to stand. Soon medical personnel arrived with a board to lift him onto a stretcher, and soon the stretcher itself arrived from the tunnel of the Smith Center. A crowd of about 20,000 people sat in silence.

A fierce rivalry paused. N.C. State’s players gathered near Smith while paramedics tended to him. UNC’s watched from near their bench. The moment offered perspective. Athletes like Smith often make their craft look easy; they make the unnatural — flying through the air, toward a dunk or a layup — somehow seem natural. Now came the most unnatural sight of all.

“He takes a lot of those types of hits,” Casey Morsell, the N.C. State guard, said of Smith, whose lithe frame often allows him, usually with great success, to find space amid defenders. “It was surprising he didn’t get up for this one. But he’s strong, man.”

Smith’s teammates did not know anything about his condition in the moments after the game, an 80-69 UNC victory. They just knew what everyone else knew: that one of their own had been hurt, and that any of them could be an awkward fall away from enduring something as frightening.

It’s not something they often think about. Now those thoughts became unavoidable.

“We all love sports,” said Pete Nance, the UNC forward. “But this is kind of the tough side of sports. Obviously, it’s a super competitive game, but anything like that happens, you just can’t help but feel really, really bad for him. …

“It’s hard to see. It’s hard to see, because we put so much time and effort into this game.”

And then here was the game, offering a betrayal. The paramedics loaded Smith onto the board and lifted him to the stretcher. They braced his neck. Someone placed a towel over his head. Smith suffered elbow and neck injuries, the severity of which was unknown after the game.

As paramedics led him off the court, the crowd here gave Smith a standing ovation. His mom followed closely behind, rushing to keep pace with the medics.

“I’m his mother,” she told them, as they moved quickly to reach the ambulance.

NCSUUNC-SP-012123-RTW_12.jpg
N.C. State’s Terquavion Smith (0) is taken off the court on a stretcher after falling on a hard foul by North Carolina’s Leaky Black in the second half. Black was ejected from the game on Saturday, January 21, 2023 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Robert Willett [email protected]

Afterward Kevin Keatts, the N.C. State coach, said he didn’t have an update.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Terquavion,” he said.

Hubert Davis, the UNC coach, met with reporters the first question he received was about the game. He dismissed it, at first, so he could talk about Smith, whom he described as “an unbelievable kid and an unbelievable player.”

“He’s a fantastic player, and I just wanted to talk about him,” Davis said. “And just let you know that — just didn’t like seeing that.”

By then Smith was in the hospital, and Keatts was on his way to visit him there.

This story was originally published January 21, 2023 9:48 PM.

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Andrew Carter spent 10 years covering major college athletics, six of them covering the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. Now he’s a member of The N&O’s and Observer’s statewide enterprise and investigative reporting team. He attended N.C. State and grew up in Raleigh dreaming of becoming a journalist.



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