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December 11, 2010

Carolina scoring saves day in win vs. Long Beach State

CHAPEL HILL - While Roy Williams regularly claims he loves when his team wins while scoring in the 90s, this is not what he had in mind.

Yes, the Tar Heels scored plenty of points.

But they also gave up enough that they had to sweat out a 96-91 win against Long Beach State to increase their win streak to three games.

"I was disappointed in our defense," Williams said. "We've been living off our defense the last four or five games. But they made shots. You've got to congratulate them."

All those shots that Long Beach made partly overshadowed the fact that the Tar Heels had a great offensive game themselves.

Carolina had twice as many assists (22) as turnovers (11) and shot 60 percent in the second half, which should have been enough to turn its 14-point halftime advantage into a blowout.

But the 49ers (5-6) hit better than 56 percent of their shots in the second half to stay well within striking distance down the stretch, even getting within a basket of the Tar Heels with less than nine minutes to go.

"It was only like that because we didn't play good defense at all," guard Dexter Strickland said.

Offensivley, the victory was a team effort for the Heels (7-3), though that isn't so much a compliment as it was a necessity.

Freshman Harrison Barnes led the Tar Heels and tied career highs with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

He scored most of those points in the second half, showing some more aggressive play when UNC was in the midst of trading baskets with the 49ers.

"It was kind of a close game," Barnes said to explain his assertiveness at the offensive end. "There's a 50-50 chance every time you shoot."

Given that he shot 7 for 16, he jokingly noted that "the rims are still little tight around here."

Leslie McDonald added a career-high 19 points, doing the bulk of his damage in the first half when he buried five 3-pointers.

Thanks to those shots, the Tar Heels turned a back-and-forth start into a 48-34 game at the break thanks to a 25-9 run to close the first half.

"It was just how the offense went," McDonald said. "I was finding open holes. When teams play zone, I love it. It opens up the spots on the floor."

A good deal of the credit for the offensive success goes to point guard Larry Drew II, who had his first double-figure scoring game of the season, as well as dishing out eight assists against just two turnovers.

"I always want to stay aggressive and look for my shot," said Drew, who had previously expressed that he felt like he was in a season-long slump. "They started making a run, and it didn't really seem like our inside game was where it's been, so I tried to be more aggressive."

Indeed, the paint presence the Tar Heels have enjoyed lately was virtually nonexistent until Tyler Zeller got some baskets late.

Starting big men Zeller and John Henson and combined to shoot 6 for 15 despite holding a significant size advantage. Zeller didn't score his first field goal of the game until more than a minute into the second half.

On top of that, the 49ers outrebounded the Tar Heels 37-35 in the game and got their guards into the paint often without UNC recording a blocked shot.

That was just one of the defensive problems Carolina had, but in this game, they were all masked just enough by the ability to score.

The Heels know they might not be so lucky in the future.

"As the season goes on, as we play better competition, we're going to have to play better at the defensive end," Barnes said. "Better teams will capitalize on all our mistakes."


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