The Tar Heels (30-5) missed nine of their first 10 field attempts and allowed the Catamounts (24-12) to hang around for the majority of the first half. Vermont trailed 19-17 with 5:59 remaining before UNC created some breathing room with a 14-4 run. North Carolina took a 37-25 lead into halftime.
Vermont was never able to cut its deficit to single digits, but only trailed by 13 points with 10:09 to play. James Michael McAdoo (career-high 17 points) spurred a decisive 19-7 run over the next four minutes with a pair of three-point plays to increase UNC's lead to 67-42.
The Tar Heels led by as many as 27 points in the closing minutes.
Tyler Zeller posted his 18th double-double of the season with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Kendall Marshall (11 points, 10 assists) set a new ACC record with his 16th double-digit assist game of the season. Harrison Barnes added 14 points for the Tar Heels.
Sandro Carissimo led the Catamounts with 11 points and Matt Glass scored 10.
North Carolina shot 41.5 percent on 27-of-65 shooting, while holding Vermont to 39.7 percent (25-of-63). The Catamounts outrebounded UNC, 42-37, including a 16-15 edge on the offensive glass.
INSIDE THE GAME
Intensity and Focus Concerns… Or Not?
The Tar Heels have spent the last week telling reporters that the slow start in the ACC Championship Game was a lesson learned and that a full 40 minutes of effort and intensity would be the norm in the Big Dance. It took just one NCAA Tournament game to raise doubts about those claims.
But what was interesting during the postgame interview sessions is that none of the players expressed concerns about the lethargic start. Instead, they pointed to other factors that played a role.
"I think the biggest thing was Vermont's a team that you don't watch on TV a lot, so you're not very familiar with their offense or their players," Zeller said. "We had the scouting report, but it's something that we haven't watched them play five or six games over the year."
McAdoo agreed, saying, "We just weren't familiar with them."
Marshall talked on Thursday about how the poor start against Florida State was going to help this team heading into the NCAA Tournament. When asked if he was happy about North Carolina's intensity to start Friday's opener, Marshall responded with the following:
"I was very happy. I felt like we did a great job defensively early on. On the offensive end, we were getting great looks, but if they're not falling, that's not something you can get mad at. Like Coach always says, when we're hitting shots, we're going to be extremely tough to beat. We may not have shot the ball well today, but we still found a way to win."
Head coach Roy Williams is always quick to point out that things look better when shots are falling, and that is certainly true and could be a reason why so many watching the game felt as though the Heels were sleepwalking early. Granted, seven first-half turnovers against five assists could have played a role as well.
McAdoo Making Moves
After five days of Wrist Watch 2012, not to be confused with Toe Gate 2009, McAdoo learned that he would start in Henson's place for the third straight game. The freshman forward struggled early in his first NCAA Tournament contest, missing his first four shots inside the paint.
McAdoo downplayed the notion that butterflies or the magnitude of the moment played a role during those opening minutes.
"I kind of got down on myself early just because my shot wasn't falling, but I was getting great shots – that's what Coach kept saying," McAdoo said. "I really just tried to play myself into the game on the defensive end and be aggressive."
Williams replaced McAdoo with Justin Watts at the 16:15 mark of the first half to put a smaller lineup on the floor. Nearly six minutes passed before the Norfolk, Va. native reentered the game with UNC clinging to an 11-9 lead.
On his first offensive possession back in, McAdoo knocked down a pair of free throws. On the ensuing play, he stole a pass from Josh Elbaum to start transition. Bullock missed an open look from the left wind, but McAdoo was there for a monster follow slam that drew two roars from the crowd – one in real time and one on replay.
He scored just four points on 1-of-6 shooting in the first half, but opened the second stanza with a field goal and pulled down two offensive boards in the first 88 seconds. McAdoo then erased any thought of a potential upset with back-to-back and-ones to push UNC's lead to 17 points with 9:21 to play.
"In the second half, I really put my mind to it that I just needed to be tougher and I was able to get some and-ones," McAdoo said.
Once Henson returns to the starting lineup, McAdoo will serve as a valuable weapon off the bench after being a question mark for much of the season.
North Carolina typically doesn't hold a morning shootaround if tip time is prior to 3pm, but due to Henson's situation, Williams decided to go ahead with one on Friday.
After having problems with gripping, holding and shooting the ball last Sunday prior to Sunday's ACC title game, the junior forward showed no such problems at the shootaround. Williams had him try certain post moves, and while Henson did as asked, his coach wasn't satisfied.
"I said, ‘John, it just doesn't look like you're comfortable'," Williams told reporters. "And he says, ‘Coach, not really, but I'm right there.' And I just made the decision at that time that I wasn't going to play him.
North Carolina will hold a short practice on Saturday and Williams said the process would be the same with seeing how Henson responds.
"I would think that if you had asked me yesterday, I would have said it's a little less than 50/50 that he was going to play today," Williams said. "And now, if it continues, I would say it's a little better than 50/50 that he would play Sunday. But if he still feels the same way, I won't play him."
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