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December 22, 2009CHAPEL HILL - Taking Will Graves out of the starting lineup turned UNC coach Roy Williams into a comedian and Graves into one heck of a rebounder.
The junior had a career-high 10 rebounds and was one of five Tar Heels to score in double figures in 10th-ranked Carolina's 98-61 win against Marshall.
"I have a smile on my face," Graves said. "Starting or not starting, I'm very appreciative to put on this uniform."
A good portion of the questions Williams faced in his post-game press conference revolved around the decision to bench Graves in favor of freshman David Wear.
"I was disappointed with some things, so I didn't start him, and David had done some nice things," Williams said.
Graves responded to the change, snagging six rebounds in the first half and being much more active on defense.
"I always try to come out and be focused, but coming off the bench, I was a little more focused, a little more attentive," Graves said.
With regard to exactly what Graves did to lose his starting spot, Williams would only say that "usually when guys don't play, it's because of poor play that precedes it."
But he was able to recite numerous examples of improvement from Graves in this win - the major one being that "he moved more" - getting progressively more colorful in his descriptive language. That led to a number of laughs in his post-game press conference.
"I feel like it's Comedy Central here," Williams said. "That's on my bucket list. I want to be on Saturday Night Live and host the dadgum thing."
Nobody was laughing early in the game.
The Tar Heels (9-3) actually trailed the Thundering Herd (9-2), which had won seven straight games coming in, late in the first half.
Obviously, there was a bit of a hangover from the Heels' 103-90 loss three days earlier against Texas, another contest in which lack of effort or intensity was a problem.
"I was afraid that we would be a little tight, and I thought we were tight early in the game," Williams said. "I think any time you lose a game around here, a lot of people tend to overreact, and particularly when you lose to a really good team. And so I think some of our kids went into the game a little tight."
After the early struggles, Carolina recovered to go into the locker room with a 44-35 lead thanks to a 3-pointer by Graves at the buzzer.
And in the second half, UNC really turned it on, going on an early 18-0 run to take a 23-point lead that would swell to as many as 37 in the final minutes.
"We just started competing out there," Marcus Ginyard said. "When we compete out there like we did, we're a tough team to deal with."
Ed Davis had 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Tyler Zeller scored 18 points off the bench. Deon Thompson and Ginyard chipped in 14 each.
But clearly the story was the play of Graves, who looked as inspired as the Tar Heels need to be overall.
"I can't remember the last time I saw him go to the boards like he did tonight," Ginyard said. "He did a great job defensively for us as well. I think it was overall, just a much better effort from the team tonight. We've just got to keep rolling with this."