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"It's not O.K., but it's going to happen," said senior forward Danny Green (12 pts, 4 rebs) when asked if this is one of those early-season games that the team just has to work through during a sub-par performance. "It's the first real game for the young guys, the first game of the season for us, and we don't have a full roster right now -- a couple guys are hurt -- but we still have to keep playing. I think we did all right once we got it going, but we still have some kinks to work out in practice."
The team has been in such an unsettled state due to injuries that have kept three of five seniors and two starters out of practice. The 2008 national player of the year, 6-8 forward Tyler Hansbrough, has missed the last two weeks with a "stress reaction" in his right shin and is under constant evaluation. The team's best perimeter defender, 6-5 Marcus Ginyard, underwent surgery on October 8 to have a screw inserted in the fifth metatarsal on his left foot and is projected to return to action in mid-December. Mike Copeland, a 6-7 reserve forward, remains in a state of recovery (six-eight months) from ACL surgery on his right knee in June.
Add to that the fact that the Quakers played a morphing 2-3 zone, a defense that the Tar Heels rarely practice against, with an offense that forced the Carolina post players to defend on the perimeter and what you get is an awkward-looking game at times.
"Their style is tough to play against," said Williams. "You've got Tyler (Zeller), Ed (Davis), and Deon (Thompson) out there playing on the floor where they are not used to playing."
"That zone is tough for us because we don't run it," said senior forward Deon Thompson, who finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. "It's hard for us to play against it, but when we have shooters like Danny and Wayne (Ellington), Ty (Lawson), it is kind of hard for a team to stay in a zone against us. When the shots aren't falling we try to get the ball inside. It's weird because you can't post up how you want to against a zone."
The Tar Heels maintained a single-digit lead throughout most of the half, but outscored the Quakers by 10 over the final 5:31 of the half to take a 48-33 halftime lead. Carolina stretched the lead to 20 in the second half and Penn cut it to 10 with under five minutes before the final margin settled at 15 again.
"We got kind of sloppy at times, especially in the second half," Thompson said. "I think we didn't come out with the same intensity and the same effort that we did in the first half. If we had come out in the second half the way we did in the first half, I think the score would have been different. We probably would have blown it open."
Guard Tyler Bernardini paced the Quakers with 26 points on a 9-of-18 shooting performance, garnering 12 of his points from behind the 3-point arc. The Tar Heels held Penn to 40 percent (24-60) from the field and 11-of-33 from the bonusphere.
The silver lining for the Tar Heels is that it has forced younger players, including the freshmen on the team, to step in and fill the void in the absence of the seniors. The young post players helped to fill the void left by Hansbrough with a combined 28 points and 16 rebounds, but they were not without holes in their games.
"I loved, particularly Ed and Tyler Zeller, the way they got involved in the game," said Williams. "They did some really nice things. I look down and see that Ed has 14 rebounds. That's really good. I think it's also important for him not to have zero assists and four turnovers. I look down and see that Tyler Zeller is 5-of-8 (from the field) with 18 points, but I don't expect him to have zero defensive rebounds. We've got to get more consistent play out of those guys."
"We knew we had to pick up the slack because [Hansbrough] is the player of the year," said Davis, who finished with 10 points. "He's the biggest piece of the puzzle on our team, so we knew we had to pick it up when he went out in practice."
"I have to rebound better," said Zeller. "Coaches have always told me that I have to rebound better. That is one of my, not weaknesses, but something that I'm not as strong at as other things."
Carolina shot only 46.7 percent on the night, and one of the Tar Heels' sharpshooters, junior guard Wayne Ellington, managed only 5-of-15 from the field but chipped in five rebounds, five assists, and two steals.
"I didn't get frustrated," said Ellington. "I just tried to do other things. My shot wasn't falling like I would have liked, so I went to other aspects of the game -- get some stops defensively, get in the passing lanes for some steals, just do something else."
Ty Lawson finished with 12 points and five assists.
Next up for the Tar Heels is a 9 p.m. game on Tuesday against the Kentucky Wildcats (0-1) in the Smith Center.