updated 11:05 p.m.
CHARLOTTE -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he was concerned about his team’s lack of NCAA experience.
So perhaps it was fitting that with the second-round game on the line Friday night, the Tar Heels got the most out of the player that had played in the postseason the most.
Junior forward Tyler Zeller – who logged a total of 32 minutes during UNC’s six-game national title run in 2009 – scored 25 of his career-high 32 points in the second half of the second-seeded Tar Heels’ 102-87 victory over No. 15 seed Long Island University.
Tar Heels sophomore John Henson added a career high 28 points (including 20 in the first half) at Time Warner Cable Arena, and freshman Harrison Barnes chipped in 24 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.
But it was Zeller’s poise (and points) that secured the game down the stretch; as a result, Carolina (27-7) will either face either seventh-seeded Washington or No. 10 seed Georgia in at 12:15 p.m. on Sunday for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.
“I feel like they did go to him in the second half, and he attacked it a lot,’’ said Long Island forward forward Jamal Olasewere, whose team shot 36.5 percent and was out-rebound by 15. “What can you really say? He did a good job.”
The Tar Heels – who saw the score tied 33-33 with five minutes remaining in the first half -- led by as many as 21 points with 14:04 left. But they had their lead chipped to 73-59 about three minutes later, thanks to a tenacious Blackbirds offense that entered the game leading the nation in free throws (30.4 per game) and was fourth in scoring (82.6 points per game).
“Nobody’s played significant minutes in this tournament, so it’s one of those things where you get up by 10 or 15 in a regular season game, they might just go away,’’ Zeller said. “But it’s their last game, and they keep coming back, coming back, and you’ve got to be aware of that.”
UNC point guard Kendall Marshall (three points, 10 assists) said at that point, he wasn’t necessarily looking to get the ball to Zeller – but to any of his big guys, “because they [Long Island] were getting into foul trouble and our bigs were doing a good job of finishing around the rim.”
Zeller was the most aggressive at getting the ball at that juncture, scoring his team’s next 11 points to keep the Tar Heels ahead 84-70. After a breather, he came back onto the floor and followed Marshall 3-pointer with six more points help seal the victory.
“It was something we emphasized all week, getting the ball inside – either throwing it into us, or off the dribble,’’ Zeller said. “And we did a great job of it throughout the course of the game.”
Another reason it was key: the Tar Heels were having trouble hitting outside shots; they made only 3 of their 17 3-point attempts for the game, although they shot 50.7 percent, overall.
Forward Julian Boyd led LIU with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Williams said he wasn’t necessarily happy with the way his team played, but he is happy they are still playing.
“John carried us in the first half, Harrison at the end of the first half, and Z carried us in the second half,’’ Williams said. “There were some really good things from these three guys, but it’s got to be everybody.”
Especially now that they all have more NCAA experience under their belts.
Photo: UNC's Tyler Zeller shoots as Long Island's Kenny Onyechi (32) defends during the second half. ETHAN HYMAN - firstname.lastname@example.org