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Thursday, January 27, 2011

After poor start, Tar Heels slide past Hurricanes

Posted by on Thu, Jan 27, 2011 at 12:19 PM

Bullock has found his shooting touch
ESPN2 — North Carolina had to lose to Miami on Wednesday night. That’s because Miami had to beat the Tar Heels. The Hurricanes, a snake-bitten 1-4 in the ACC heading into the game against UNC, desperately needed a victory to become competitive in the conference.

But despite Miami’s fevered intensity and a hostile road environment, Carolina shrugged off a couple of poor offensive stretches to prevail over the ‘Canes 74-71 to improve their own conference record to 4-1, and 14-5 overall.

Continuing the season’s strange pattern, freshman Harrison Barnes played very poorly for most of the game but hit a couple of critical shots late, including the game-winning three-pointer. The Tar Heels were a turnover machine through the early portion of the contest but settled down thereafter, and despite some rough patches they out-rebounded Miami 34-30.

There were widespread — and entirely understandable — concerns that UNC would falter back to last season’s patterns upon encountering the inevitable adversity of conference play. Yet despite yet another sluggish start on offense and problems all night getting out-muscled in the frontcourt, UNC hung around and relied on its defense — which stiffened in the second half, holding the Hurricanes to 38 percent shooting — to claw back.

The Heels’ perimeter offense is improving, as the club hit a respectable 38 percent on three-point shots. Freshman wing Reggie Bullock has blossomed into a key figure, knocking in 2-for-5 from deep and adding five rebounds and a couple of clutch defensive plays. The high school All-American was overshadowed completely by Barnes in the preseason, but during the past two games he has outplayed his fellow freshman.

The point guard switch, freshman Kendall Marshall in favor of junior Larry Drew, seems to have diminished Marshall’s game while bolstering Drew to improved play. With the pressure to initiate the offense from the opening tip, Marshall accumulated only six points and three assists in 22 minutes. In his 18 minutes, Drew handed out five assists with no turnovers but struggled defensively.

Carolina’s free throw shooting also proved to be a positive aspect, a development that has proved to be the case in several close wins this season. Marshall, Barnes and Tyler Zeller led the team in attempts, and combined they converted 10-for-11 from the stripe.

UNC returns home for a Saturday afternoon match-up against massively struggling N.C. State. The buzz among Triangle talking heads is that the Wolfpack may be forced to make a coaching change following this season, so the ‘Pack are likely to play with great intensity and possibly some desperation.

To view the UNC/Miami box score, click here.

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