UNC's Harrison Barnes (40) rises over N.C. State's Richard Howell (1) for two points in the first half. Barnes lead the Tar Heels with 25 points in their 84-64 victory over the Wolfpack. ROBERT WILLETT - email@example.com
updated: 6:10 p.m.
CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina forward John Henson broke down N.C. State on Saturday – altering most Wolfpack shots attempted in the lane. Teammate Harrison Barnes, meanwhile, broke through – playing his most consistent gave of the season for a career-high 25 points.
Together, they led a 84-64 dismantling at the Smith Center that marked UNC’s ninth straight win in the rivalry series, and that State coach Sidney Lowe admitted was embarrassing.
The Wolfpack (12-8, 2-4 ACC), which trailed by double figures within the first three minutes, has now lost five of their last six games; the Tar Heels (15-5, 5-1) have won eight of their last nine.
“It’s a great feeling right now,’’ UNC coach Roy Williams said. “It’s fun to see Harrison with a smile on his face and break out and do the things he did, and John Henson, 16 points, 16 rebounds ….”
Not to mention seven blocks.
The duo was more aggressive from the outset. Henson (usually the jokester) said he was more serious to begin game after being told that someone had called UNC’s big men “soft” during a talk radio show. Barnes (usually ultra-focused) was looser, wanting to show that he could hit big shots before the final five minutes of games (as he had done vs. Virginia Tech, Clemson, and at Miami).
As a result, the Tar Heels got off to a quick, 13-2 start, led by nine points from Barnes and a dunk and aggressive defense from Henson.
State, playing without starting point guard Ryan Harrow (flu), missed 14 of their first 16 shots, and at one point early-on, had been out-rebounded 15-2.
By halftime, the only reason the Wolfpack didn’t trail by more than 34-21 was that UNC’s early sharpshooting had cooled off.
“Obviously, we dug a hole for ourselves in the first half, not rebounding the basketball and giving [UNC] second-chance opportunities,’’ Lowe said. “And then we didn’t score some easy baskets.”
UNC opened the second half with a 6-0 run, and although State freshman Lorenzo Brown scored seven consecutive points for the Pack to cut UNC’s lead to 43-32 with 15:49 left, the Pack got no closer.
Not with Henson using his length around the rim to dominate the boards, when he wasn’t swatting shots.
“He altered anything within about two or three feet,’’ UNC forward Tyler Zeller said. “We’d stay in front of them, and then let John go and try to block it. .... John just did a superb job controlling the area around the basket.”
And not with Barnes scoring the most field goals by a Tar Heel this year (10), while shooting better than 50 percent (10-for-16) for only the second time this season. His 3-pointer with 6:54 left made him only the second UNC player this season to hit the 20-point mark; when he checked out a few minutes later, he grinned widely as he high-fived his teammates.
“Coaches have been stressing to me to act like every shot you take is a last-second shot, because I haven’t really struggled in making those shots,’’ Barnes said. “… It’s nice to put together a full game.”
Brown led State, which shot 36.4 percent and got out-rebounded by 14, with 20 points.
Zeller chipped in 14, while Justin Knox had added for the Tar Heels.
“I thought this team was going to get better and better as the season progressed,’’ Williams said, “and I still believe that.”