CBS — North Carolina didn’t quite erase the doubts that surfaced during the three-day slog through last weekend’s ACC Tournament, but the Tar Heels did advance past Long Island 102-87 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Carolina was a three-man show. Tyler Zeller broke the 30-point mark against the much smaller Blackbirds, finishing with 32 points and nine rebounds. John Henson also punished LIU’s frontline, finishing with 28 points and 11 boards. Harrison Barnes continues to improve, and his 24 points and 16 rebounds further aided the Heels’ cause.
As you may have surmised based on those stats, Carolina dominated on the glass. The Heels out-rebounded LIU 54-39 and imposed their will physically throughout the contest, and their 102-point total was the most scored by any team in the tournament thus far.
Despite those encouraging numbers, many fans exited the game feeling uneasy. UNC committed 18 turnovers and allowed Long Island to make a couple of runs that cut the working margin down to single-digits. Roy Williams was very angry at halftime, tersely responding to a halftime interviewer — not at all young or attractive, of course (sigh) — about his team’s “dumb” play as the Heels entered the locker room at the break.
Of course, much of Carolina nation watched the game in connection to Duke’s first-round game against hapless Hampton. The Blue Devils performed more consistently than UNC— and freshman guard Kyrie Irving made his much-anticipated (and dreaded) return to the court — and are expected by most to advance farther in the tournament. From that perspective, the anxiety makes sense.
Moving on, Carolina plays Washington on Sunday at 12:15pm. The Huskies are mere three-point underdogs, and they possess the speed and long-range shooting ability to send UNC packing. For the Heels to advance, they likely will need Leslie McDonald to improve upon his 0-for-7 shooting performance on Friday night. For that matter, the bench scored only six points total, and that lack of balance could pose a problem against a deeper opponent. The good news for Carolina is that U-W likes to run; this could be the highest-octane game of the second (err. … third) round.
To see the UNC/LIU box score, click here.