North Carolina (5-0) shot out to a 12-3 lead by the first media timeout and increased that margin to 27-10 with 10:18 remaining in the first half. After a rough start, the Gamecocks (2-3) fought back to within 11 before entering halftime down 45-32.
The Tar Heels scored six of the first eight points after the break to build a 51-34 lead, but South Carolina refused to let the game slip away, scratching back to within 11 points on three different occasions. UNC eventually blew open the game with a 10-0 run in the final 3:35 to push its lead to 27 points.
Harrison Barnes led the Tar Heels with 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting. P.J. Hairston added a career-high 19 points on five 3-pointers and John Henson just missed a double-double with 18 points and eight rebounds.
Damien Leonard scored 15 points to pace South Carolina. R.J. Slawson (13), Malik Cooke (12) and Anthony Gill (10) also reached double figures for the Gamecocks.
UNC shot 46.3 percent (31-of-67) from the floor while holding South Carolina to 41.8 percent (23-of-55) and forcing 25 turnovers. The Gamecocks outrebounded the Tar Heels, 43-35.
INSIDE THE GAME
Opening Blitz Doesn't Equal Blowout
It only took one possession for Kendall Marshall to set the defensive tone early. After Barnes missed the first shot of the game, the sophomore point guard stole the ball back from Leonard. Tyler Zeller (12 pts, 5 rebs) forced a turnover on South Carolina's next possession and the Gamecock debacle began.
Darrin Horn's squad turned the ball over on seven if its first 10 possessions as North Carolina built a 12-3 advantage. The Gamecocks committed 14 turnovers before the under 8:00 media timeout and at one point had five offensive fouls against just six field goals, but somehow still avoided the death blow early, trailing 29-16 with 7:59 to play.
"We were attentive defensively early, but we were not very efficient offensively," UNC head coach Roy Williams said. "We had four or five turnovers and four or five break opportunities and scored three times out of six."
The primary reason South Carolina was able to keep the game close was its work on the boards. The undersized Gamecocks were the aggressor, pulling down seven offensive rebounds en route to outrebounding UNC 24-13 in the first half.
"I think they were just being really aggressive on the boards," Zeller said. "We've got to do a better job of boxing out and getting the boards ourselves."
Now it's P.J.'s Turn…
Roy Williams praised Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston's shooting ability after UNC failed to eclipse 34 percent from long range in any of the first three games. Bullock immediately responded with a career-high 23 points on 6-of-7 3-pointers against Tennessee State.
Hairston let his elder have the stage first and then followed up by draining three 3-pointers against South Carolina to set a new career high by halftime. He knocked down two more in the second half to finish with 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc.
"I haven't been shooting the ball horrible, but I wanted to come in and prove myself as a shooter, too," Hairston said. "Just knowing that I can knock down shots, I wanted to prove it to everyone watching. I came out and got in a rhythm and hit my first two shots and said, ‘Okay, this is going to be a good day."
Bullock and Hairston are prone to talk smack about who will have a higher 3-point percentage by the end of the season. Thus far, Bullock is leading with a 47.6 mark on 10-of-21 shooting, narrowly topping Hairston's 45.8 percentage (11-of-24).
Most importantly, they are providing perimeter firepower off the bench and combining to connect on 46.7 percent (21-of-45) of their 3-point field goal attempts.
Kendall Being Kendall
It took an inadvertent whistle in the closing minutes of the game to rob Marshall of his third 15-assist outing in four tries. The sophomore's assist-to-error ratio over his last four games is 6.5-to-1 – that's 52 assists against eight turnovers.
"To say that he leads us would be the understatement of the year," Williams said. "He's just doing a great job for us."
Marshall, as usual, provided his standard postgame operating procedure in redirecting praise to his fellow Tar Heels.
"I give all of the credit to my teammates," said Marshall, who added six steals. "I've said it before – I do the easy part. I just have to get them the ball. They have to make the shot."
North Carolina opened the season in impressive defensive fashion, holding its opponents to 33.9 percent shooting (59-of-174) through the first five halves of play. But in the five halves since, UNC is allowing its opposition to shoot 41.7 percent (68-of-163).