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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tar Heels punish St. Francis for its sins in final non-conference affair

Posted by on Sun, Jan 2, 2011 at 8:26 PM

Dexter Strickland fearlessly attacks the rim
  • Arianna Hoffmann/Indy Week
  • Dexter Strickland fearlessly attacks the rim
DEAN SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina began its 2011 with a big ole’ turkey. The Tar Heels engaged in some shameless record padding against St. Francis (Pa.), a team that entered the game 2-10 and ranked No. 326 — out of 345 Division I teams — in Ken Pomeroy’s respected power rankings.

But the crowd nevertheless cheered unabashedly as the Heels whomped the Red Flash 103-53, getting double-digit scoring performances from eight different players. Carolina shot 59 percent as a team and held St. Francis to 33 percent shooting, which along with a 44-32 rebounding advantage goes a long way to explain the margin of victory.

As expected, UNC’s frontcourt was dominant. Always-entertaining sophomore John Henson notched 13 points, six rebounds and six blocks, and he raised is woeful free throw average by hitting 3-for-6 from the foul line. Junior Tyler Zeller added 11 points and six boards of his own, and the two players along with top reserve Justin Knox (10 points) combined for 13-for-19 shooting.

The backcourt shared in the bounty. Larry Drew and Dexter Strickland combined for 23 points, six assists and no turnovers. Freshman point guard Kendall Marshall actually played more minutes than Drew (22-17), and he compiled eight assists, three rebounds and three turnovers.

Many fans undoubtedly were excited to see Marshall gain minutes at Drew’s expense, but Roy Williams was very clear in the press conference that it was Drew himself — utilizing the tired signal — who took himself out of the game as a result of his hard work on defense. While the gap between the principals’ playing time had narrowed even prior to this game, at this point there’s still no reason to believe that a switch is imminent.

The freshmen wing scorers, Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock, both had their moments as well. They finished with 22 total points, nine rebounds and four assists. These are the two players hoped by everyone to give the team a scoring lift as they gain experience, and each figures to benefit from a confidence boost against an overmatched foe.

But this game was candy. The Heels now are finished with their non-conference schedule and will move into ACC competition. Highly organized Virginia, which drilled the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill last season, will host UNC next Saturday in the conference opener. To view the UNC/St. Francis box score, click here.

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