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North Carolina (15-5, 5-1 ACC) jumped out to a 13-2 lead in the first three minutes on Saturday, and after N.C. State (12-9, 2-5 ACC) cut that deficit to 15-6 11 possessions later, the Wolfpack would not be able to get back within single digits the rest of the afternoon.
The Tar Heels scored six straight points out of halftime to build their lead to 40-21, but reserve guard Lorenzo Brown sparked the Wolfpack with nine points and three assists as N.C. State closed the gap to 43-32 with 15:49 remaining. North Carolina countered minutes later with a 14-5 spurt to put the game out of reach.
UNC eventually increased its lead to 80-54, marking the first time since Mar. 4, 2009 that the boys in blue have eclipsed the 80-point barrier in ACC play.
The first Tar Heel walk-on – Stewart Cooper – entered the game with 2:29 left on the clock and his teammates got into the action 48 seconds later.
John Henson posted a near triple-double with 16 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks, while Tyler Zeller (14 points, five rebounds) and Justin Knox (10 points, six rebounds) provided additional production in the post. Lorenzo Brown led the Wolfpack with 20 points – 18 in the second half – and seven assists. C.J. Leslie added 14 points and seven rebounds, while Tracy Smith scored 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting before fouling out with 4:35 remaining.
North Carolina shot 47.1 percent (33-of-70) from the floor, including 57.6 percent after halftime, and held N.C. State to 36.4 percent shooting (24-of-66). The Tar Heels outrebounded the Wolfpack, 53-39.
INSIDE THE GAME
After making a name for himself with strong play in the clutch over the past six weeks, including a game-winning 3-pointer against Miami on Wednesday, Harrison Barnes decided to prove that he's every bit as dangerous in the opening minutes as well against N.C. State.
The freshman wing opened the game with a 3-pointer to give North Carolina a lead it would never relinquish, and then went about scoring in various methods – perimeter shots, a drive and a putback off an offensive rebound.
It only took Barnes seven minutes and one second to post 11 points, nearly doubling N.C. State's production as UNC built what proved to be an insurmountable 19-6 lead. The preseason All-American has shown the ability to score in spurts – as evidenced by 19 first-half points against Hofstra and eight points in the final three-and-a-half minutes against Virginia Tech – but fans have been looking for that complete game performance.
They got their wish on Saturday.
With the Wolfpack in the midst of a 13-5 run early in the second half, Barnes drained a 3-pointer from the right corner to push UNC's lead back to 14 points. And from essentially the same spot, the Ames, Iowa product knocked down another trey roughly seven minutes later to move his club out in front 66-45 with 6:54 remaining.
"I think I just gained a lot of confidence from the Miami game, and then I felt my teammates did a great job finding me tonight and I knocked down shots," Barnes told reporters during his postgame interview.
In all, Barnes finished with a career-high 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting (3-of-7 3-pointers), but his effectiveness extended beyond the scoring column. He finished with six rebounds, a steal and an assist against just one turnover and didn't even receive a stat for arguably his most important hustle play of the game.
As North Carolina sat stagnant on 28 points for four minutes and some change, Barnes tore across the court to fight two Wolfpack players for a loose ball, and then found Henson at the free throw line who quickly assisted Tyler Zeller for a drought-breaking lay-up.
"I think for us in the first half was probably as intense as Harrison has been in coming up with the loose balls and coming up with the rebounds," head coach Roy Williams said.
Knocking on Wood
Following Miami's blitzkrieg from long range earlier this week, North Carolina entered Saturday's contest ranked 10th in ACC play in 3-point field percentage defense (39.8). N.C. State, on the other hand, was leading the ACC in conference play with a 39.7 percent mark from beyond the arc, led by Scott Wood (2.8 3-pointers per game, 47.2 percent).
The sophomore wing had drilled 20 of his last 41 treys in his last seven games before stepping on the Smith Center floor, averaging 11.1 points along the way, but Williams elected to throw small defenders at the 6-foot-7 Wood and the move paid off.
The speed and quickness of both Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald were too much for Wood on the perimeter, and the sharpshooter finished the game with two free throws and no field goals (0-2, 0-1 on 3-pointers).
"Seeing the scouting report and seeing a couple of clips, he was just coming off screens and just pulling up," McDonald said. "So our main focus was to jam him before he could get his shot ready and make him a driver."
N.C. State's three 3-pointers represent a season-low in league play for the Wolfpack.
The Value of a Shot Blocker's Presence
Perhaps the best compliment that John Henson received on Saturday came from the media members who were shocked when the final box scores were passed out in the Smith Center press room revealing that the affable sophomore didn't finish with a triple-double.
But while blocks require actual contact to count on the stat sheet, Henson's ability to fluster N.C. State's post players and get into their heads resulted in several more missed shots even when he wasn't around.
"I felt like we had some opportunities where he didn't affect the shot, but I thought we were looking for him," N.C. State head coach Sidney Lowe said. "We weren't looking at the basket [and] we weren't looking at the rim, we were looking for shot blockers a couple of times. So I think the fact that he had a couple of blocks had our guys looking around a little bit."
For Henson, that level of respect validates his efforts on the defensive end.
"I would rather have two blocks and 20 altered shots than seven blocks and no altered shots, because that's just going to have people looking over their shoulders and not focusing on making their shots," said Henson, who posted his sixth-career double-double. "You always want to make them think about who's around whenever I'm in the game."
Henson has blocked 16 shots in his last three games and 22 in his last five.