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January 18, 2011CHAPEL HILL - In a game where one North Carolina bench player made a long-awaited move into the starting lineup, another made a case for himself to do the same.
And their coach made sure every starter was on his toes.
The big news before tip-off was that freshman Kendall Marshall was starting in place of Larry Drew II at point guard. But the big deal once the game got going was another freshman, Reggie Bullock.
The Kinston native scored a career-high 18 points to lead the Tar Heels in a 75-65 win against Clemson, keeping intact UNC's undefeated all-time record at home against the Tigers.
As it turned out, UNC coach Roy Williams originally planned to make three changes to the starting lineup. But the fact that Leslie McDonald missed the game with a back contusion forced Williams to shift back to his original lineup with the point-guard change.
"It hit home," said John Henson, who scored 14 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked five shots. "You don't ever want to get to comfortable with where you are."
Especially when you are where the Tar Heels (13-5, 3-1 in the ACC) were after an abysmal visit to Georgia Tech that yielded a 20-point loss two days earlier.
They needed a jolt, and Williams' three-man lineup change at practice, combined with keeping Marshall as the starter against the Tigers (13-5, 2-2), seemed to do the trick.
Carolina came out and shot 51.4 percent in the first half with just four turnovers, a far cry from the offensive stinker they had in Atlanta.
That early success made survivable a second half that saw the Heels shoot under 40 percent and turn the ball over 10 times.
So did their defense.
After the game was tied 63-63, Carolina went on a 12-2 run to close out the game, holding Clemson to a single field goal over the final 7:46.
"If anybody scores two points (against you) in eight minutes, you're probably going to come out on top," Henson said.
As the Carolina offense struggled in its first three ACC games, fans' desire to see Marshall supplant Drew as the starter grew palpably.
After seeing that his team had 33 assists against 43 turnovers in those contests, and that Marshall had 17 of the assists but just four of the turnovers, Williams was eager to try the switch, too.
"(Drew) knew he was going to play, and he knew he was going to be important to the team," Williams said. "I just didn't want to watch the same thing I watched (against Georgia Tech). I wanted us to do a better job of taking care of the basketball."
Marshall finished with five points and five assists, while Drew did his usual good work at the defensive end, notching four steals (as well as scoring eight points of his own).
Marshall and Drew played 22 and 23 minutes, respectively, and even shared the backcourt when Williams needed some late-game ball-handling.
"I think when you have me and Larry out there, we're a two-headed monster," Marshall said.
Even if Marshall's numbers weren't all that telling of the Heels' early success in this win, the team's were.
With 6 ? minutes remaining, the Tar Heels surpassed their best first-half scoring effort of conference play.
Three minutes later, they had the same number of field goals that they did in the entire loss at Georgia Tech.
By halftime, the Heels were up 46-38, the first time they have led at the break in their four ACC games.
Bullock was also a huge part of the early success, scoring seven straight points during an 11-2 run and surpassing his career high in scoring by halftime, when he had 16 points.
In UNC's first three ACC games of the season, Bullock had just eight points combined.
But before the game, Williams asked his team who the hottest shooters on the team were. They unanimously responded with answers of McDonald and Bullock. Since McDonald wasn't available, Bullock's timing in stepping up was perfect.
"Coach basically just said to get in the passing lanes," Bullock said. "My teammates fond me, and that was key to getting me going."
And the key to getting the Tar Heels going, apparently, was a small lineup change and the threat of a larger one.
"Tonight, it worked out perfect," Bullock said.