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November 13, 2011Carolina kept it simple on Sunday after flying across the country to play a 4 p.m. game at UNC Asheville to help the Bulldogs open their new arena.
The top-ranked Tar Heels seized their advantage in height and fed Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes the ball for a steady flow of inside shots.
Some of those failed to drop early, but eventually they fell like a steady rain in a 91-75.
Carolina (2-0) shot 59.3 percent for the game from the floor and attempted just seven 3-point shots out of their 54 total field-goal attempts.
Zeller led the Tar Heels with 27 points, making eight of 13 field goals and going 11-of-13 at the free-throw line. Henson had double figures in scoring and rebounding with 20 points and 12 rebounds. He blocked two shots, coming off a game of nine blocks against Michigan State. Barnes, who settled for a lot of 3-point shots last season, attacked the basket much more in this game and was rewarded with 17 points to go with five rebounds.
Those three big men did exactly what Coach Roy Williams wanted: control the game at the offensive end.
"When we have that size advantage, I think we're stupid to shoot 25 threes," Williams said. "We do want John, Harrison and Z, they were the only guys who got into double figures, [to shoot]. They took 34 shots between them. They scored 27, 20 and 17. You don't have to be a nuclear physicist to figure out that is pretty good."
The Bulldogs have now opened their season with two games against ACC teams and suffered two predictable results as they lost to N.C. State and UNC to fall to 0-2.
But they are the defending Southern Conference champions and are picked to repeat. These two games will almost certainly help them play strong once they get to conference play.
"We battled hard today and our crowd was terrific," said Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach, a former N.C. State player and assistant coach. "North Carolina is a great basketball team, and their inside game was terrific. We just let them score too easily inside all day.
"I really appreciate Coach Williams coming here to open our arena," Biedenbach said. "This was a great day for our basketball program and our school. We competed and just wish we could have made a few more shots and a couple of more plays."
The biggest playmaker of the day was UNC point guard Kendall Marshall. The sophomore from Virginia passed for 15 assists, one short of his career high. Had some of Zeller's early layups not bounced off the rim, Marshall would have set a new record.
"It's always frustrating when you make a good move and get a lay and miss it," Zeller said. "It was something where I just settled down a little bit, and once I settled down I was all right."
Marshall committed five turnovers to go with five assists in the season-opening victory against Michigan State. The five turnovers are uncharacteristic for him.
"I did make some very poor passes against Michigan State," Marshall said. "I even made one tonight that I know coach is going to get on me about, but at the end of the day, I was just trying to make plays to make our team better."
Marshall and the Tar Heels became quite efficient in the final minutes of the first half and that propelled them to a 48-39 lead after having the Bulldogs pull within three points (37-34) on two free throws from J.P. Primm with 2 minutes and 53 seconds left in the half.
"For us to make a run at the end of the half, I think that was big for us," Marshall said.
The Tar Heels opened the season in an unusual game, playing Michigan State on the deck of an aircraft carrier docked in San Diego, Calif. After that game, UNC flew all night to get to Asheville, so the team was still trying to adjust to the quick turnaround and cross-country flight.
"After that trip, I felt like I was halfway through the season," Marshall said. "It was a very emotional trip, very mentally draining. But I think if you want to be a great team, you have to learn how to persevere these things and figure out a way to win."