Tar Heels chug past Lipscomb in season opener | Sports

Tar Heels chug past Lipscomb in season opener

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DEAN SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Forgive UNC fans if the opening game of the 2010-11 season felt an awful lot like the 2009-10 campaign. The Tar Heels, heavily favored to cruise past a low-major Division I opponent, suffered through various spots of ineptitude before finally pulling away for an 80-66 victory over Nashville-headquartered Lipscomb.

Sophomore big man John Henson compiled the most impressive numbers, posting 10 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks. Though still not a polished scorer, his ability to make freelance plays — particularly on defense — is unparalleled.

The most glaring issue on the stat sheet was UNC’s paltry 12 total assists on 30 made baskets, a key indicator of offensive fluidity and efficiency. Meanwhile, a controversy at point guard is accelerating at a rapid pace.

Freshman Kendall Marshall, in his first game as a Tar Heel, went for 10 points and three assists in 11 minutes, while junior incumbent Larry Drew scored just four points and missed all three of his field goal attempts. Given that team chemistry became such a pervasive negative for Carolina last season, a junior getting sent to the bench in favor of a freshman would carry a significant risk.

For that reason Roy Williams is likely to give Drew every opportunity to keep his job, and the upcoming games against stiff competition will be very important along those lines.

The nation’s most celebrated freshman, Harrison Barnes, scored a quiet 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting, adding four rebounds, two assists, a block and no turnovers. Barnes likely will need to score in the 17-19 point range this season for the Heels to be a genuine contender, but this was a better start than he’ll be given credit.

Carolina’s defense was a mixed bag. The Heels did show more length and athleticism on the perimeter — thanks in part to Barnes and fellow talented freshman Reggie Bullock — but didn’t offer much pressure at the point of attack. The young players also will make mistakes until they more fully grasp the system.

UNC actually appeared to be pulling away early in the second half, but the Bisons launched a comeback and cut the lead to three points. The Heels then regained composure and received timely buckets from both Leslie McDonald and Tyler Zeller to win comfortably, if not in a way that inspired confidence.

But perspective is in order. College basketball is littered at this stage of the season with talented clubs struggling against inferior opponents. My take on UNC’s first game is likely to be more positive than that of others, but later this month the Heels will face major tests and be expected to compete and win their fair share.

UNC’s next game will take place in Puerto Rico next Thursday against Hofstra in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, an eight-team tournament that ultimately could pit the Heels against teams such as West Virginia, Minnesota and Vanderbilt.

To see the UNC/Lipscomb box score, click here.

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