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November 13, 2011
"We're very pleased with the outcome. It was a little bit of a difficult turn-around, and yet at the same time, they played Friday night as well. We had a tremendous size advantage inside, and we tried to make sure that was an important factor in the game."
UNC-Asheville, the preseason favorite out of the Big South Conference, wasn't afraid to try to run with the powerful Tar Heels, and during a nip-and-tuck opening half, the Bulldogs pulled within 38-36 at one point, but the Tar Heels embarked on a 10-3 run to end the first half to take a nine-point lead into the locker room for halftime.
Carolina promptly came out for the second half and put together a 13-3 run, pounding the ball inside to its big men. UNC would stretch its lead out to 20 points midway through the final period before UNC-Asheville made a late rally, pushing to within 12 points a couple of times in the final eight minutes. But the Tar Heels were able to hang on and get the comfortable victory behind 59.3 percent shooting as a team, and a solid plus-14 rebounding margin coming off Friday night's dreadful effort on the glass against Michigan State.
All in all, it was a solid team win for the Tar Heels against a team that has an excellent shot of joining UNC in the field of 68 teams in the 2012 NCAA Tournament come March.
C: Tyler Zeller: Sunday was a game of struggles at times for Carolina's senior big man, but his numbers speak for themselves---eight-of-13 shooting from the floor and 11-of-13 from the free throw line to lead all scorers with 27 points. Zeller added eight rebounds and a blocked shot in 30 minutes on the floor. The UNC-Asheville students picked out Zeller as a target for consistent verbal abuse throughout the game, and while there was one point in the first half where Zeller looked visibly frustrated with all the physical attention he was getting from the Bulldogs, for the most part he handled himself with grace. Everybody in the arena that knew anything about basketball knew that Zeller was going to get a lot of touches, and he didn't disappoint for the Tar Heels.
PF: John Henson: Henson had a solid game on Sunday, recording a double-double with 20 points and 12 boards. He also picked up two more blocked shots to go with his impressive total from San Diego. Henson was making shots all over the floor against the Bulldogs, finishing eight-of-11 from the field. In a strong sign of his improving free throw shooting, Henson managed to sink four of six attempts from the charity stripe. If Henson plays like this over the ensuing months, Carolina is going to be damn hard to topple.
PG: Kendall Marshall: The lofty numbers put up by Zeller, Henson, and Barnes on Sunday was largely facilitated by Marshall, who had one of his finest outings yet in powder blue. Remarkably, Marshall produced 15 assists against just one turnover. It was the fifth-most assists ever put up in a single game by a North Carolina player, and it's the most ever (repeat ever) in a 'true' road game. Despite all the yelling and screaming from the UNC-A fans, Marshall was poised, deliberate, and mature. As one Tar Heel fan put it on Facebook, 'Kendall Marshall has got some X-Ray vision.' We tend to agree. As if his 15 assists weren't enough, Marshall added six points and a rebound over a team-high 34 minutes on the floor.
Honorable Mention: SF Harrison Barnes: It's not often that a player won't be in the 'Three Stars' category after scoring 17 points, but Barnes' efforts on Sunday got overshadowed a little bit by the outstanding efforts by Zeller, Henson, and Marshall. But it was another workmanlike outing for the All-American, as he drilled six of 10 shots from the perimeter, including five of eight free throws. Barnes also had five turnovers. One of the reasons why Barnes wasn't higher on this game's list is the fact that he had six turnovers, including a couple of head-scratcher passes. But Barnes continues to make clutch shots for the Tar Heels, and he seems to be just getting warmed up.
HEELS BREAK IN SPARKLING NEW ARENA
How could North Carolina possibly top the pageantry and electricity of playing on the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego Friday night? Well, there's an answer apparently. Fly home on the redeye that same night, hang out for a day, and then turn around and play one of the top mid-major programs in the South when they just happen to be opening a brand-new arena, the gorgeous Kimmel Arena on UNC-Asheville's campus.
"The biggest thing for us was the 'three time zone' kind of thing, trying to get ourselves back into what would be normal, and we don't feel like we're that (yet)," said head coach Roy Williams.
Make no mistake---this was a true road game for the Tar Heels. UNC-A's student body is passionate about its basketball, and over 3,000 rowdy spectators poured into the gleaming new complex. In fact, there were brief moments when the scene wasn't completely unlike Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium given the quaint setting and all the dark blue in the stands.
"It was a big-time crowd here. I hope everybody enjoyed themselves, and I think it was a wonderful opening for UNC-Asheville. And I think they're going to have a really big-time basketball team for them (their fans)," said Williams. "It was a wonderful setting. It's a big-time gym, and I think it will be a great home court advantage for the Bulldogs."
For the most part, Carolina handled this intimidating environment fairly well. The Tar Heels allowed UNC-A to go on a couple of spurts that fired up the fans, but almost every time Carolina had a definitive answer. UNC managed to control the game pretty much all the way through, save a few key moments of lapse. UNC-Asheville fought hard and refused to be blown out of their own gym, but Carolina held control and didn't let up.
HEELS POUND INSIDE, LIMIT THREES
Predictably, North Carolina made it a point to get the ball inside Sunday against UNC-Asheville. The Bulldogs had absolutely no match for Carolina's size, and the Tar Heels knew it.
"We had a tremendous size advantage inside, and we tried to make sure that was an important factor in the game," said Williams. "We were just bigger. And we've got to use that to our advantage."
In addition, Carolina knew defensively that it would have to limit UNC-A's 'dribble and dish' style of play, working the ball inside with the guards and then kicking outside to other players for three-pointers.
"We had hoped that we would really hold their three-point percentage down. We knew they were going to shoot a lot of them. We hoped we were going to do that. And we hoped we would do a better job on the backboards than we did against Michigan State. We still weren't smooth by any means. Their shooters can really shoot it. So we tried to make sure we got out and bothered them," Williams said.
"Their (UNC-A's) style of play is they want to dribble-penetrate and create openings for three-point shots. So we tried to just guard them man-to-man and stay straight with them, and I think that will help us," Williams continued.
While Carolina wasn't making a lot of its own outside shots, they did a nice job for the most part of slowing down Asheville's outside game. While the Bulldogs did make eight three-pointers, they attempted 28, making for a shooting percentage of just 28.6 percent. That's a percentage Coach Williams will take anytime.
We just can't say enough about the efforts of Marshall, who continues to propel the Tar Heels in a way that can accurately be described as highly effective. His 15-to-1 assists-to-turnovers ratio speaks for itself, but he also showed quality shot selection, making two of five field goal attempts, including a three-pointer.
Marshall's court vision continues to astound observers. He had several highlight-reel passes in the game, including multiple looks in transition, and one bullet he threw inside to Henson for an easy basket. But it's one that he missed that got a mention from Coach Williams after the game.
"If he would have made a better play on the 'three on two' at the end he would have 16 (assists)," Williams joked, drawing laughter from reporters after the game.
Clearly Marshall is doing fine coming off the scare with his back, and if Sunday's performance is any indication, the Tar Heels are going to be just fine so long as No. 05 is on the court.
Sunday was a Homecoming in a lot of ways for Coach Williams, who got his first opportunity since becoming a collegiate head coach to work his craft in his hometown.
It was a little different for Williams, a favorite son of Asheville, to be the bad guy in the building, but it was great for him to be able to come home with his top-ranked team.
"It was a little unusual to be back. I didn't think I would be booed quite as much in Asheville (N.C.) as I was tonight, but that's okay. All's fair in love, war, and basketball games," he said. "I love this area. It's a place that's always been home. And hopefully in about 10 years or so down the road, when I quit I'll live up here because the mountains have this thing about it with me. And that will never change.
MUCH NEEDED REST
Now that UNC has taken on its whirlwind three-day run of games in San Diego and Asheville, the team can afford to take a deep breath and cool its heels for a few days before returning to game action. In fact, Carolina will get a whole week off before playing Mississippi Valley State next Sunday afternoon in the Smith Center. For the Tar Heel players and coaches, the return to Chapel Hill will be a welcome thing naturally.
"All in all, it's been a weird four or five days," said Coach Williams. "The experiences we've had the last four or five days, some of them have been sensational and things that we'll remember forever. It was a little bit difficult for me with so many thoughts going through my mind.
UNC will have a more traditional week as they get back to practice in the Smith Center, and back to a more usual routine with classes. It's a great opportunity for the team to re-charge its batteries for a few days before getting focused for a challenging stretch, with four games set to be played over seven days, starting Sunday with MVSU and concluding in Las Vegas next weekend with a series of two games Friday and Saturday in Sin City.
Sunday, UNC vs. Middle Tennessee Valley State, Smith Center, 2:00 pm (Raycom Network)