CHAPEL HILL — No. 4 North Carolina defeated Long Beach State 84-78 here at the Smith Center on Saturday night. And, as Tar Heels coach Roy Williams expected, it wasn’t easy.
A look back at UNC’s victory against the 49ers:
Why the Tar Heels won: UNC trailed 45-40 at halftime and the Heels were down six three minutes into the second half. Then Reggie Bullock happened. He ignited a 22-8 run with a 3-pointer and then hit two more 3’s during the decisive stretch that put Carolina in control for good. Long Beach State shot 51.4 percent in the first half but 42.9 percent in the second half, and the 49ers missed all eight of their 3-pointers during the second half. And, oh yes, another good game for Kendall Marshall. He finished with 16 assists. He now has four games with at least 15 assists. No other UNC player in history has one.
The good: We mentioned Bullock’s play in the second half, and Marshall’s assists. Also good for UNC: It made 4 of its 6 attempts from 3-point range during the second half. And John Henson came up with some big-time blocked shots down the stretch, when the 49ers were attempting to make things interesting. Henson finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks. His performance was one of his best of the season. Williams liked the defensive effort in the second half better than he did in the first.
The bad: The Tar Heels looked lost at times defensively during the first half, but that can be the case when a good player gets hot. And that’s what happened to Casper Ware, the Long Beach State senior guard. He got hot. Ware finished with 29 points, but 21 of those came in the first half. At one point, he had 14 of his team’s 18 points. UNC put three players on Ware and none had any real success – not in the first half, anyway. Kendall Marshall guarded him. So did Dexter Strickland and Bullock. Ware just kept making shots.
Key moment: The 22-8 run decided it, and put UNC in control. Bullock began it with a 3 that cut the 49ers’ lead to three. Then he made another 3 to put UNC ahead 57-55, and another one to put UNC ahead 62-59. That last one put the Tar Heels in the lead for good. That 22-8 run took place over about nine minutes. It wasn’t as quick and powerful as some runs can be, but it was just as decisive.
Key stat: The Tar Heels shot well from the outside in the second half and the 49ers didn’t. UNC made 4 of its 6 attempts from 3-point range. Long Beach State, meanwhile, was 0-for-8.
Key stat II: In the final 4:10, Henson blocked three shots. All three of those blocked shots came with UNC holding a 6-point lead. If he doesn’t block one of those, and it goes in, and the 49ers cut it to four … who knows? Maybe it’s a different game. But Henson made the plays. Credit goes to Aaron Beard of the Associated Press, by the way, for pointing that stat out to other members of the press corps after the game.
UNC player of the game: This could go a lot of ways. Henson played one of his best overall games of the season. Marshall had 16 assists. Tyler Zeller finished with 17 and became the 64th UNC player in history to score 1,000 points in his career. Still, it’s difficult not to go with Bullock here. He carried the Tar Heels when they most needed somebody – anybody – to step up. Bullock did.
Quotable: “Reggie was huge. I was very discouraged with some of the things that were going on out there. And Dexter’s 1-for-4 and Kendall’s 1-for-6, P.J.’s 0-for-3. And thank goodness Reggie came in and decided he was going to make some shots for us from the perimeter. But he’s a youngster that’s gone through a lot of tough times and I’m really pleased for him today.” –UNC coach Roy Williams