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December 10, 2011Carolina improved its intensity on defense and in rebounding the ball in the second half of its 84-78 win against Long Beach State on Saturday night, and the Tar Heels needed every bit of its emotional surge.
Long Beach went to the locker room at halftime leading 45-40, having made a mockery out of the Tar Heels' defense and out-rebounding UNC 19-16.
"I think it was noticeable, how much more intense we were," said point guard Kendall Marshall, who had 16 assists and just two turnovers.
"Coach [Roy Williams] got into us at halftime. He told us we were either going to make this a game, or we are going to beat by 25. We didn't want to be in a situation like we were at UNLV and not come out and perform in the second half."
The Tar Heels got a lot of big contributions on both ends of the court in the second half. Harrison Barnes became much more aggressive offensively. He finished with 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
"I was just being more aggressive," Barnes said. "I can't just sit out there and rely on the 3-point shot. I knew we were down and had to press, so I tried to get something going."
Casper Ware had it going from the start for Long Beach State. He scored 21 points in the first half, hitting 4 of 6 3-point shots, while going 8-of-13 overall.
"I thought he was going to go for 60," Barnes said. "He came out just on fire."
Whatever the reason, Ware scored only eight points in the second half to finish with 29.
Marshall had to try to guard Casper.
"It's a problem," Marshall said. "He is a game-changer. You have to be aware of where he is at all times and try to be up on him. It was kind of depressing.
"A couple of times there were defensive lapses and he took advantage of it. Other times I felt like I was getting a hand up. He still made some shots."
The two Tar Heels aside from Marshall who stood out the most in this game were John Henson and Reggie Bullock.
Henson buried the short, baseline jumpers he has become so adapt at hitting from the start of the game. He also rebounded as he does nearly every game and made several critical blocks.
On one sequence late in the game, Henson blocked a shot and just took the ball away from Long Beach and then ran to the other end. Marshall quickly fed him the ball along the baseline, and Henson responded with a reverse layup.
"He blocked some shots that were huge for us," Williams said of Henson. "He is just getting better and better."
Henson finished 12-of-17 from the field, scoring 24 points, while grabbing 10 rebounds, passing two assists and blocking four shots. He also had a steal.
"He was great, blocking shots, doing all the little things his teammates weren't doing," said Bullock, who scored 15 critical points on 6-of-10 shooting. "There were a lot of times he got back on a fastbreak layup, and he was there to block down the stretch.
"He was everywhere on the boards. He found teammates if he didn't have a shot, he would kick it out to a shooter like me, P.J. [Hairston] and Harrison."
Bullock's points made a significant difference in the game, helping the Tar Heels come from behind and take the lead.
Bullock scored 11 of UNC's 17 points as the Tar Heels surged. He scored eight consecutive at one time.
"He was needed a heck of a lot more than some of his other games," Williams said. "There is no question about that. I like his confidence. I didn't want to take him out, except for one possession on the defensive end. He just couldn't slide his feet. His gas tank was empty. I took him out, gave him a breather and put him back in."
Overall, the Tar Heels should benefit greatly from this game. Long Beach beat Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh and gave Kansas fits in Lawrence. But after this game, Coach Dan Monson gave the Tar Heels all the credit.
"It's been a long week for the team, between traveling to Kansas, traveling here and trying to get two days of school in, but I felt they fought really hard," Monson said. "We aren't here for moral victories. We feel like we can play in these games and sometimes you just have to say that you got beat.
"I don't think we lost to [the Tar Heels]. I think they beat us, and for me that is acceptable. A couple of games this year I think we lost and that's unacceptable. The team really tried to do what we asked for them to do, and we just came up short."
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, should benefit greatly from having to work so hard against such a strong team to earn a victory.
"We have to learn to play for 40 minutes," said Tyler Zeller, who had 17 points and nine rebounds. "There is going to be a game where take off four minutes, it can make or break a game.
"So we have to be able to learn that and do that the whole game. We have to learn to play like we did in the second half the whole game."