CHAPEL HILL—Make it 11 straight for Roy Williams and North Carolina.
The No. 7 Tar Heels made easy work of North Carolina State on Thursday in the Smith Center, using stifling defense to suffocate the Wolfpack en route to a 74-55 victory.
The Tar Heels dominated every facet of the ACC contest, and there was seemingly nothing the Wolfpack could do. UNC held State to 36.8 percent shooting, forced 17 turnovers and out-rebounded the ’Pack 48-26.
“I think up until this point we haven’t been known as a defensive team, but we can make our statement now going into the backend of ACC play,” UNC forward Harrison Barnes said.
Williams used the long week to gameplan for sharpshooter Scott Wood and Lorenzo Brown, whom UNC point guard Kendall Marshall called the best in the ACC at the point position. Brown finished with nine points and five turnovers.
And if last season was any indication, John Henson would confound forward C.J. Leslie all night long.
Last year, Henson had 16 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks against N.C. State in the first game. In the second game when he was matched up primarily on Leslie, Henson held his Wolfpack opponent to 6-of-15 shooting while grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking six shots himself.
On Thursday, Henson had five blocks, grabbed 10 rebounds and held Leslie to 3-of-12 shooting.
“I don’t know if it’s I have anything on him but it’s just a tough matchup for him,” Henson said. “He’s a great player, very athletic and hard to guard. That’s why I really get down and focus on defending him and that’s a credit to his game.”
While Henson held down the paint on the defensive end, Tyler Zeller did more than his share on the offensive side of the court. The 7-footer scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds against the Wolfpack. He had already recorded a double-double with more than four minutes left in the first half.
The Wolfpack struggled from the start against Carolina. N.C. State shot 25 percent from the field in the first half, including a 5:11 stretch where it went without a field goal.
“I think that's what makes our team difficult — we are very long and we're athletic and we can get on the boards and create problems,” Zeller said. “Even if I can't get the rebound we can tip it and someone else can go get it. That does create problems but hopefully we can continue to do that and get better at it."
The poor Wolfpack offense was magnified on the other end by the highlight-reel dunks by the Tar Heels, including a follow slam from Barnes that elicited a roar from the sophomore standout. UNC went into the half leading 37-23.
Entering the game, the biggest question was how Reggie Bullock would play starting in his first game. The sophomore was thrust into the starting lineup after Dexter Strickland suffered a season-ending ACL tear at Virginia Tech last week. Bullock took over the 2-guard position and showed patience from the field to begin the game, facilitating the offense much like the team-first Strickland did while he was playing.
But that patience wore thin as the first half continued. Bullock stroked his first 3-pointer of the game five minutes in but missed his next four shots, including a handful of airballs. He righted the ship in the second half, though, hitting his first two 3-pointers of the second frame and stretching the Tar Heel lead.
His defense on Wood held State’s forward to just 4-of-12 shooting, including a 3-for-9 clip from long-range.
“You can’t give Scott an open look so you try to get there and get a hand in his face,” Williams said. “He’s a very good player that doesn’t take bad shots. So if you’re there with a hand in his face there’s a great chance he won’t take it. And I thought Reggie did a good job of shadowing around the screens.”
The other unknown would be how Stilman White would respond to increased minutes in relief of Marshall at the point guard position. White saw five minutes on the floor and had three points and one assist.
His only points came on a 3-pointer with 12 minutes left in the game. As the ball rotated in the air, the Smith Center crowd gathered its collective breath before letting out the biggest eruption of the game upon the ball swishing the net.
“It was just a huge energy surge,” said White, who admitted he was nervous at the start of the game. “Something you can’t really explain. That’s what you come to a place like here for. 20,000 fans screaming and you get to hit a big 3 like that.”