But the Tar Heels regrouped and dominated early in the second half to claim their first ACC road win 82-68. Carolina’s performance may have been its most determined of the season, as the Heels launched a 19-0 run that effectively decided the outcome.
Just when everyone was ready to relegate Harrison Barnes to something other than serious All-American contender, the sophomore forward played magnificently. Barnes scored 27 points in diverse fashion: He shot 8-for-14 from the field and aggressively drove to the rim, converting 10-for-12 on free throws.
Barnes has suffered criticism for his sloppy ball-handling in one-on-one situations, but Carolina last night assisted him as a dribbler by utilizing high screens to open a lane. Overall, UNC’s offense appeared more structured than the organic, freelance game Roy Williams prefers. Perhaps the second half will serve as a springboard both for Barnes individually and the team’s collective approach to scoring points.
The Heels almost never play effectively when both Tyler Zeller (5-for-11, 14 points) and John Henson (8-for-17, 16 points) shoot under 50 percent, so last night proved an anomaly from that respect as well.
And the big guys certainly did the job on the glass. Henson led the way with 16 rebounds and Zeller added 11, enabling UNC to smash Tech on the backboards 51-28. The Tar Heels almost never will lose a game — or even face a serious challenge — when they manhandle an opponent to that extent.
Three-point shooting has become a nagging concern, however. Carolina’s effectiveness from behind the arc continues to sag, as Reggie Bullock (2-for-7) proved the culprit for last night’s 29 percent mark from deep.
While the post-game mood brought smiles to faces in Chapel Hill and throughout Tar Heel nation, Dexter Strickland’s knee injury brought a degree of somberness as well. Strickland stepped awkwardly while chasing a loose ball at full speed and crashed into an agonized heap. He said after the game that fear played a role in his reaction, but the bottom line is that his knee was very sore and tests may reveal serious damage. Fingers crossed.
Carolina gets a week off and hosts N.C. State next Thursday. Click here to view the UNC/VT box score.