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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tar Heels shoot down Eagles in conference opener

Posted by on Sat, Jan 7, 2012 at 6:34 PM

Henson has emerged as a potential All-American
DEAN SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina shrugged off a couple sleepy spells this afternoon to flatten moribund Boston College 83-60 in the Tar Heels’ ACC season opener.

Harrison Barnes continues to elevate his performance level, tallying 25 points on a highly efficient 10-for-15 shooting and adding five rebounds and four steals. Tyler Zeller shot 8-for-12 and finished with 20 points, and John Henson notched 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks.

Fans streaming into the arena prior to the contest were overjoyed that the Heels had put the non-conference schedule behind them, but the Eagles actually aren’t that much better than the typical mid-major team. Carolina enjoyed nearly every tangible advantage at nearly every position, winning easily thanks to superior size, athleticism and skill. The Heels also are the far more experienced club.

And that raises the question of how the Eagles managed to slice Carolina’s lead to single digits in the second half, repeatedly running to the basket for lay-ups.

Roy Williams answered with an emphatic “no” this past week when asked whether he believes his team is naturally intense. These Tar Heels are nice kids off the court and at times on it as well. They calibrate their own aggression according to the opponent and the scoreboard more than other clubs, and there’s certainly no Tyler Hansbrough to infect his teammates with a relentless style.

Media and fans love to employ descriptions such as “stepping on the opponent’s throat” as a way to describe ultra-competitive squads. Carolina has risen to the occasion against elite foes this season (and last), however, so this problem likely wouldn’t be an issue in the deeper rounds of the NCAA Tournament. But UNC also must avoid getting bitten too many times during ACC play — potentially costing them a No. 1 seed in the postseason — or, catastrophically, getting knocked out of the tournament in an early-round game.

The individual trend-lines are encouraging. Barnes has begun to assert himself effectively off the dribble, and Zeller and Henson form a dynamic pair on both ends of the court. P.J. Hairston appears to have regained his shooting stroke, and Kendall Marshall has adopted a more assertive posture as an occasional scorer.

Through Friday’s games, Carolina now ranks No. 6 offensively and No. 11 defensively in Ken Pomeroy’s empirical national rankings. The Heels should be able to improve that defensive number, but to do so they’ll need to eliminate error-laden stretches like the one today.

Carolina hosts Miami on Tuesday in what should be a more competitive affair. Click here to view the UNC/BC box score.

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