Wrap-up: Heels blast Pack
UNC 84, N.C. State 64
Since his very first game against UNC as the NCSU head coach, Sidney Lowe has worn a hideous red blazer to mark the occasion. Perhaps it was because he won that first game, but since that lone victory Lowe has gone winless against the Heels in what is now his fifth season at the helm. You’d think he’d try to change something up?
But that just wasn’t the case in the Smith Center on Saturday. For Carolina it was business as usual in the W department against State, but it was the blowout final score that was the biggest change for this year’s team. Harrison Barnes and John Henson exploded, and the Heels dunked and drained all over a hapless Wolfpack squad that at times looked like it just didn’t give a damn.
Barnes got off to a hot start (not unusual) but for once finished just as strong to put in a game-high 25, the first time he’s eclipsed 20 all season. It was obvious Barnes was thrilled to pass the marker as he and teammates exchanged exuberant smiles when he hit the shot to put him at 20. Barnes has scored 19 twice this season, and I’m thinking it must have been some kind of running joke in the locker room that he couldn’t hit 20. He had to have felt cursed after that Hofstra game in which he scored 19 in the first half.
Henson, however, was truly the force with which the Wolfpack could not reckon. His Sean-May-like numbers (16 pt, 16 reb, 7 blk) showed just how active he was around the rim on both ends of the floor.
Rebounding, especially, was the story of the game as the Heels corralled 53 boards, including 20 offensive, to the Pack’s 39. Carolina’s second-chance points changed the game and added to State’s downtrodden outlook. It was one of the few times this season that UNC’s opponent looked truly defeated, both mentally and on the scoreboard.
- The talk, of course, is all about Barnes’ breakout performance. Though it might be a little late, it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Heels, who face the toughest part of their ACC schedule beginning this week at Boston College. Barnes’ mom was in the audience, which could have sparked the frosh, but let’s hope he doesn’t need that every game and will continue this production. Carolina has needed a go-to scorer all season (as much lamented on this blog) and Barnes could (see: should) be the guy.
- Henson absolutely controlled the game. His seven blocks, while impressive, are not indicative of the number of shots he altered. Henson was an animal and proved that his slight stature is no impediment on his ability to grab boards.
- Zeller and Knox added 14 and 10 points respectively, showing that Carolina’s offensive power lies down low, but you already knew that.
- UNC is the No. 2 team in the nation in rebounding. I know you’re surprised, but it’s true, and this game will only keep that statistic true for another week.
- Not sure if this is something to take away as a UNC fan, but State looked horribly out of sync and even lackadaisical. For a team that normally looks at this game like its Super Bowl, the Pack sure didn’t bring a lot of fire to the rivalry. (Yes, State fans, I called it a rivalry!)
- Woeful foul shooting returned. Carolina finished 54 percent from the stripe. Looks like this will be up and down all season, but it appears that the Heels can hit them in crunch time (See Kentucky and Miami).
Players of the Game: Barnes (25 pt, 6 reb) and Henson (16 pt, 16 reb, 7 blk, 3 ast). Henson was arguably the biggest force in the game and put up some just ridiculous numbers, but we had to give Barnes a nod as well for his breakout. Harrison finally looked like he was having some fun, which is good news. Plus, you got to love a guy that plays well for his momma.
Stat Stuffer (The soon-to-be-renamed John Henson Award): Obviously, Henson would be a lock for this, but we chose to highlight the effort of Dexter Strickland (8 pt, 8 reb, 4 ast, 3 stl) who, like Henson, was everywhere on the court, showing some great hussle. There is a reason Dex starts over the more shooting-oriented Leslie McDonald.
Poetry in Motion: That fast break between Dexter Strickland and Tyler Zeller was just be-a-utiful Saturday. Stickland gets the ball at half court, dishes to a defended Zeller who gives it back to him, and then after a defender has rotated to contest Strickland, he gives one final pass to Zeller under the rim for the uncontested lay-up. Dex could have taken his own shot but made the extra pass for the guaranteed deuce. Sweet. State played pretty good D on the break, but the Zeller-Strickland connection was just too much.