Heels Impressive Early in Victory

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 9 North Carolina closed out 2009 and its nonconference home schedule with a dominating start and a lackluster finish in defeating Albany, 87-70, on Wednesday night.

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It took the Tar Heels less than nine minutes to build a double-digit lead that the Great Danes would never be able cut to single numbers, courtesy of an Ed Davis slam dunk that changed the scoreboard to 19-8. A 10-0 run several minutes later would essentially put this game out of reach as UNC took a 46-29 lead into halftime.

North Carolina built an 85-47 lead with 7:35 remaining in regulation.

Davis led the Tar Heels with 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks, while Deon Thompson posted 15 points and five boards. Virginia transfer Will Harris tallied 22 points and six rebounds and Billy Allen added 16 points for Albany.

UNC connected on 50 percent of its field goal attempts (33-of-66) while holding the Great Danes to 40.6 percent (26-of-64). The Tar Heels outrebounded their opponent, 41-38.

Marcus Ginyard and Justin Watts sat out Wednesday's game due to ankle sprains.


Bench Lift
Tyler Zeller (six points, seven rebounds) has turned heads all season long in his role as the first Tar Heel off this deep bench, but a pair of freshmen joined the lanky sophomore on Wednesday in providing a needed lift.

Forward John Henson (eight points, two blocks) and guard Leslie McDonald (nine points, three rebounds) delivered energy and production on a level that observers hadn't seen in the previous 13 games.

Henson showcased his immense athleticism with a pair of steals and a trio of fastbreak dunks, as well as by disrupting an Albany inbounds play with his 6-foot-10 frame to tip the ball back out of bounds. The freshman was rewarded with a season-high 19 minutes of playing time.

"When you get to stay in a little longer, you know you're doing the right things," Henson said. "That's how I judge if I'm doing the right thing. It was a good feeling and a confidence builder."

McDonald, on the other hand, took advantage of his teammates' injuries at the 2-spot by displaying an aggressiveness on the offensive end that has been lacking in his earlier appearances.

"It built up my confidence a lot," McDonald said of his 17 minutes. "In my mind, I was just saying, ‘Go out there, be relaxed, play hard and do your job.' And I think I just did that."

Tougher Opponents Required?
There are some that suggest Wednesday night's beatdown was a good thing for a seemingly fragile North Carolina squad just days away from beginning the harsh grind of ACC play. But for a team that has struggled in nonconference play in a variety of areas, could it be that a solid stretch of tough opposition is actually a good thing?

The Tar Heels' work in building an 85-47 against the Great Danes should be applauded. But watching that margin dwindle to 17 thanks to a 23-2 run over the final 7:35 of play is troubling.

"When we play a team like [Albany], I think we get too full of ourselves," Dexter Strickland said. "We think that we don't need to play that hard. We've got to change that thought… When we play big teams, we play better."

While a mental lapse of that magnitude is not detrimental in terms of a win or a loss against a program like Albany, the fact that UNC has failed to show an ability to maintain a constant energy level through 14 games would seem to suggest that better opposition could be the shock test that these Heels desperately need.

"That's definitely going to help when you play a team that you know can beat you," Thompson said. "No matter what, any team in the ACC can beat you. I think tonight if we had just showed up and not practiced, we still would have won this game. In the ACC, you have to bring your game every night and that's definitely going to make people excited to play."

The 2007-08 and 2008-09 UNC squads were often criticized for lackluster displays against lesser opponents, but there was never any doubt that their game faces would be in place when top-notch talent joined them on the floor.

This current group of Tar Heels is going to have to prove that they deserve the same level of faith.

Ringing in the New Year
Roy Williams indicated that there were some glimpses of solid play in early minutes of the second half, but Albany's 23-2 spurt to end the game left the Hall of Fame head coach clearly as frustrated as he was following Monday's win over Rutgers.

With ACC play set to begin on Jan. 10 against Virginia Tech, Williams plans to use a New Year's Eve team meeting to clear the air and find some needed answers.

"We have no restrictions," Williams said. "So we're going to meet from two o'clock until midnight. Then we'll hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya' and ring in the New Year."

All jokes aside, the seventh-year UNC head coach admitted to being tired of telling his players time and time again to do the simple things – get back on defense, work for a good shot and even getting your hands up when an opponent attempts a shot.

"I hope it's helpful," Thompson said. "I think Coach is – at this point in time – where he just doesn't know what to do anymore. I feel like he's really frustrated with us and guys continuously doing the same mistakes over and over. He just wants to see what we're thinking and how we feel about each other as a team and as a family. So he just definitely wants to hear our voices as players."

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