WINSTON-SALEM — Following his team’s less-than-aesthetically-pleasing 68-53 victory against Wake Forest, North Carolina coach Roy Williams began his postgame press conference with the kind of smooth execution his team lacked here on Tuesday night.
“You guys smell something burning?” Williams asked.
Someone mumbled that maybe it was popcorn. After a pause, Williams said, “I knew it wasn’t the nets.”
Williams insisted he wasn’t trying to be his own “set-up man” but his one-liner fit after a game in which both teams missed, on average, seven of every 10 shots they took.
“It was an ugly game and sometimes you have to win ugly if you want to have a great year,” Williams said. “… But it was. It was an ugly night.”
So ugly, in fact, that Williams at one point used the word “ugly” four times in a span of 18 seconds to describe the game. He read over the box score, repeating some of numbers listed there and said, again, “I mean – it’s ugly.”
After playing some of its finest offensive basketball of the season during its past five halves, UNC shot a season-low 31 percent against Wake, which at times used a zone defense to frustrate UNC. The Tar Heels hadn’t won a game amid such poor shooting since making 30.4 percent of its shots in a 64-53 victory against Akron on Dec. 14, 2003.
As bad as the No. 5 Tar Heels (19-3, 6-1) were offensively on Tuesday night, the Demon Deacons (11-11, 2-6) were worse. They shot 29.6 percent, their second-worst percentage of the season. C.J. Harris, who finished with a game-high 19 points, was the only Wake player who scored in double figures.
Wake coach Jeff Bzdelik praised his team’s defense but the Deacs forced only six UNC turnovers, and Wake Forest failed to convert any of those into points.
“You have to score the ball,” Bzdelik said. “… You have to finish plays.”
Neither team did much of that. Tyler Zeller, the senior forward, led the Tar Heels with 18 points and a career-high 18 rebounds. John Henson and Kendall Marshall both scored 14 for UNC. Henson added 12 rebounds.
The 14 points represented a season-high for Marshall.
Harrison Barnes, the Heels’ sophomore forward, left the game in the first half with a sprained ankle but returned just before halftime and finished with 13 points. Barnes said he “rolled” his ankle while he ran down the court with about eight minutes to play in the first half.
“Rest and ice, hopefully that’ll make it feel better,” he said.
Barnes and his teammates were looking forward to a bit of rest after playing their third game in six days. Williams said the Heels lacked the energy they had in recent games, and the sluggishness showed.
Still, UNC had more than enough energy – and especially talent – to hold off the Demon Deacons, who trailed 36-24 at halftime. Wake cut UNC’s lead to six with 13:45 to play, and trailed by seven with 10:46 to play.
But a Barnes lay-up pushed the lead back into double figures with 10:14 remaining and about three-and-a-half minutes later, Marshall drove the lane and finished with a layup that gave the Heels a 58-38 lead.
“I’m just trying to bring out my inner Kobe [Bryant],” Marshall said with a smile, referring to the NBA star who’s known for his scoring. Then Marshall turned serious.
“We can’t expect to shoot 31 percent against Kentucky and win the game,” he said. “But I think it was great for us to go out there and be able to do that and now we’re excited to get a little bit of a break.
“Three games in six days is tough.”
Photo: UNC's Harrison Barnes (40) puts up a shot against Wake Forest's Carson Desrosiers (33) in the first half of an ACC basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012, at Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem. Staff photo by Robert Willett - RWILLETT@NEWSOBSERVER.COM