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December 21, 2010

Strickland leads the way in win vs. William & Mary

CHAPEL HILL - For a while, it looked like North Carolina might have checked out for Christmas break just a little bit early.

Luckily for the Tar Heels, though, a sometimes-bumbling first half didn't prevent them from making quick work of William & Mary in an 85-60 victory before the players went their separate ways for the holiday.

Dexter Strickland led five Tar Heels in double figures with a career-high 19 points.

The sophomore has scored in double figures in three straight games for the first time in his career, notching a combined 50 points in those contests.

"The more shots you make, the bigger the rim gets," Strickland said. "I'm just trying to help my team."

Carolina (8-4) already had a 42-20 lead at halftime, but that was more about William & Mary (4-7) being overmatched than it was about the Tar Heels playing well.

In fact, there was plenty of evidence that for a while, they weren't at all.

There were barely contested drives to the basket.

There was a wide-open unguarded pick-and-roll basket.

There were numerous open 3-point tries.

There were inexplicable offensive rebounds.

There were, at one point, four Tar Heels standing around watching while Tyler Zeller fought for a ball on the floor.

In short, it was far from being a pretty beginning for Carolina.

"It was an unusual start to the game for us," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "We didn't have the enthusiasm I thought we would have."

While UNC went 4 minutes without a field goal at one point, the Tribe couldn't manage a bucket during an overlapping stretch of 5 minutes.

The Tribe was also 0 for 12 from 3-point range in the first half and shot 26.7 percent overall in the opening 20 minutes.

Thanks to the Tar Heels getting 19 of their 42 first-half points off the bench, including 10 from Leslie McDonald, pulling away from the Tribe early was little trouble.

That bench play managed to infuse the team with some life, not only from McDonald, but also from freshmen Reggie Bullock, who scored 11 points, and Kendall Marshall, who had eight assists with no turnovers.

"Our bench is incredible," said Tyler Zeller, who had 14 points and nine boards. "I think we have one of the best benches in the nation. We love when the bench can come in and produce."

Carolina played the second half without sophomore forward John Henson, who had six points and five rebounds in the first half before aggravating his injured right thumb colliding with a Tribe player.

Justin Watts started the second half in Henson's place, and Harrison Barnes helped out at the power-forward spot as well.

"I have no idea right now what's going to happen with (Henson)," Williams said. "It was swollen and really painful."

The two teams met last season in what turned out to be a first-round NIT thriller at Carmichael Arena.

The Tar Heels survived that game 80-72 in two overtimes to advance, winning despite the Tribe hitting a school-record 16 3-pointers and holding a lead with five minutes to go in regulation.

But that William & Mary team was vastly different from this one personnel-wise.

The top two scorers for the Tribe in that game were seniors who weren't here to provide scoring punch from outside this time.

That was reinforced by the Tribe missing their first dozen shots from beyond the arc and finishing 6 for 26 in the game.

William & Mary's best player, Quinn McDowell, started off the second half with a pair of threes to pull his team within 20 points, but those were the only two shots McDowell hit in the game, and the Heels didn't let the Tribe get any closer.

"Let's be honest about it, too," Williams said. "William & Mary are much better shooters than that."


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