Barnes scored nine of his career-high 25 points in the opening three minutes, drilling a three, scoring in transition and working hard on the offensive glass. He finished shooting 10-for-16 from the field, adding six rebounds and an assist with only one turnover.
The smiling aspect of Barnes’ performance is significant. Throughout the much-publicized disappointment that has defined his season — after becoming the first freshman to get tabbed as a preseason first-team All-American — his body language at times has been poor. He also has struggled on defense, in part due to unfocused effort.
His turnaround could be a simple matter of experience, but here’s my working theory: Barnes has begun to receive positive publicity as a clutch scorer; his jump shot at Miami was only the latest example of his late-game success. Now that he’s developing a reputation for something other than being an underachiever, he appears more comfortable and relaxed on the court.
Meanwhile, go-go gadget John Henson also was stellar. He scored 16 points and, even more impressive, racked up 16 rebounds, seven blocks and three assists. His ability to disrupt the opponent’s interior offense plays an invaluable role in UNC’s identity as a solid defensive team. Fans frequently raise their eyebrows whenever the possibility is broached that Henson could depart after this season for the NBA, but games like this one prove why the topic holds validity.
From a collective point of view, the Heels out-shot the Pack 47 percent to 36 percent and out-rebounded them 53-39. Frankly, State made the Tar Heels look better than they are. There were long stretches of brutal play by both teams, but the Wolfpack had very few good moments to offset the problems. Several players seemed to disengage from the competition in the second half, an extremely ominous sign for the remainder of the season.
UNC finished its ACC January schedule 5-1, a strong record for a team that performed so badly to begin the year. The Heels actually haven’t been that great statistically, but they have begun to figure out how to win close games — and scoring is down throughout college basketball, so there figure to be numerous tight contests.
But before the Carolina resurrection narrative truly emerges, consider the upcoming schedule: at Boston College, Florida State, at Duke, at Clemson. The early portion of the schedule was soft, and UNC will be doing well to win two of the next four contests.
To view the UNC/NCSU box score, click here.