Tar Heels stretch past Long Beach State in defense-optional contest | Sports

Tar Heels stretch past Long Beach State in defense-optional contest

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DEAN SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Exam season games almost never become lasting Tar Heel memories. Even some of Carolina’s best teams have looked ordinary during mid-December tilts, and this season’s less polished Heels will appear vulnerable anytime there’s a drop in intensity.

That was the backdrop for tonight’s game against far-flung Long Beach State, a quick but wild opponent who pushed UNC hard before falling 96-91. Roy Williams scheduled a home-and-home series against the 49ers with the idea that it would serve as a homecoming game for Travis and David Wear when the Heels travel there during the 2012-13 season … yeah.

Anyway, Carolina actually played very well during the first half. The Heels shot 53 percent from the field and held LBSU to 44 percent, including just 3-for-16 on threes. They held a 14-point advantage on the scoreboard and seemed in total control at the opening of the second half.

But the 49ers refused to cooperate, nailing three-pointer after three-pointer and carving up UNC’s sluggish defense with dribble penetration on a frequent basis. They cut the lead to two points about midway through the half and forced Williams to employ a zone defense, something he is loathe to do — and something he loves to discuss as something he loathes to do.

It was a dichotomous outing for a few reasons. First, Carolina’s team has begun to find itself through defense, not offense. While UNC has performed much better on the defensive end in its past three games, shooting has remained a problem. Against LBSU, however, Carolina popped the nets on 56 percent of its shots overall and a shocking 48 percent on threes, buoyed by Leslie McDonald’s 5-for-6 effort from deep.

Not only that, UNC received clutch shooting from both Larry Drew and Harrison Barnes, two of the club’s most widely discussed players and two guys who haven’t scored efficiently this season. It was a welcome relief for the increasingly beleaguered Barnes, who has been brutally horrific in the second half of games. He actually showed signs of becoming a go-to scorer, and his 19-point, 10-rebound outing was his best yet as a Tar Heel.

The frontcourt, which has been so effective recently thanks to Tyler Zeller and John Henson, was dismal. Almost everything material in his game was flipped, and while the diversity is fun and served to disturb the status quo, Carolina likely will require its usual assets to defeat Texas next weekend after a week-long break to complete exams.

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

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