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February 15, 2011

Tar Heels survive terrible shooting to beat Deacs

CHAPEL HILL - Playing Wake Forest is a lot like taking Vitamin C - even if you're not ailing yet, it can be good for you, and you can't really take too much of it.

So fresh off three wins in a tough four-game stretch, No. 19 North Carolina certainly didn't mind seeing, and beating, the Demon Deacons.

Considering how sickly their 3-point shooting percentage was, the Tar Heels might not have beaten another team in the ACC with this performance that still produced a 78-64 win against the cellar-dwelling Deacs.

"All in all, it's a win," said UNC coach Roy Williams, whose team sealed the game with a late 11-0 run. "We've got to be more focused than we were."

Carolina (19-6, 9-2 in the ACC) quickly built a double-figure lead with a series of first-half scoring spurts and looked to be on the way to an easy blowout win.

But thanks to their ineptitude from 3-point range and a general lack of second-half energy, the Tar Heels never pulled away.

Against a team that has now lost 10 of its last 11 games.

A team that has won just a single ACC game this season.

A team that lost by more points at Richmond and VCU and N.C. State than in the Smith Center.

"You can't take anyone lightly," forward John Henson said. "I think we got a little too comfortable tonight."

Even the panacea the Demon Deacons (8-18, 1-10) have become league-wide couldn't fix UNC's 3-point shooting woes.

The Tar Heels came into this game having made just 2 of their past 20 3-point attempts, dating back to the second half of their loss at Duke.

So Wake stuck with a zone defense for most of the game to force the Heels to take outside shots.

By the end of the first half against the Demon Deacons, UNC was 6 for its last 36.

By the end of the game, it was 7 for its last 47.

This game alone was a 5 for 27 showing. That's 18.5 percent.

And the wonder of it all was that the Tar Heels kept shooting those shots, even against a team they could handle inside.

"We had a lot of good shots," said Harrison Barnes, who was 7 for 20 and 1 for 8 from beyond the arc. "Half of our shots were wide open."

Williams talked up how tough the Deacs' paint defense was, but Henson still had 14 points, 13 rebounds and five first-half blocked shots.

Tyler Zeller was 6-for-9 shooting on the way to 18 points and nine rebounds.

And Barnes - who scored 17 points - got to the rim multiple times and threw the ball down with authority.

Yet the temptation of the 3-pointer proved irresistible with Wake's zone allowing it.

"At one point, you have to get it into the post and let Z and John get touches," said Leslie McDonald, who was 2 for 6 from 3-point range. "If they pop it back out and I'm open, I can't be afraid."

Williams said he thought his team might have believed too much of the hype about the difficulty of the four-game stretch that preceded this win and relaxed when it was over.

"We forgot to have our energy and intensity level tonight," Williams said.

But when the shots refused to fall and Wake Forest pulled within eight points with less than seven minutes to go, the Heels toughened up enough to offset their worst performance since losing at Georgia Tech a month earlier.

And their struggling shooters did enough to win the game.

Barnes and Reggie Bullock stayed turnover-free in the game, and Barnes did his most important scoring on a pair of late dunks.

McDonald grabbed five offensive rebounds to offset missed shots.

And the starting backcourt, while combining to shoot 1 for 9, also combined for 11 assists and two turnovers.

That, it turned out, was enough against the Demon Deacons, who were good for what ailed the Tar Heels.

"Yeah, we dodged a bullet," McDonald said. "But a win is a win."


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