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North Carolina (20-6, 10-2 ACC) jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, but Boston College (16-10, 6-6 ACC) answered with a 9-2 spurt as UNC took a 21-20 advantage into halftime.
The Tar Heels built a 37-23 lead behind a 13-0 run early in the second half, but the Eagles ended the game on a 14-3 run. Reggie Jackson attempted a 3-pointer over John Henson from the top of the key in the closing seconds, but the ball careened off the rim to the right sideline.
North Carolina's 21 first-half points set the low mark this season for points in half (24 vs. Minnesota & Virginia Tech) and ties the all-time low mark in the Williams era (1st half at Georgia Tech on Feb. 16, 2010). See the game notes below for numerous other records set or equaled on Saturday.
Tyler Zeller led North Carolina with 16 points and also grabbed nine rebounds, while Harrison Barnes posted 10 points and nine rebounds. Kendall Marshall added 10 points, seven assists, five turnovers and four rebounds. Jackson (5-of-19 shooting) and Joe Trapani (3-of-11) both scored 13 points for the Eagles.
North Carolina shot 36.8 percent (21-of-57) from the floor, while holding Boston College to 26.9 percent shooting (14-of-52). The Tar Heels outrebounded the Eagles, 44-30.
INSIDE THE GAME
Just Plain Offensive
It was understandable that North Carolina struggled offensively in recent road games at Duke and Clemson. After all, those teams rank in the upper-third of conference members in field goal percentage defense.
But then the Tar Heels connected on just 36.6 percent against lowly Wake Forest, which entered Tuesday's game in the ACC cellar with a 47.0 field goal percentage defense mark. Boston College switched places with the Demon Deacons on Saturday, coming in with a league-worst 46.7 defensive percentage. UNC didn't fare much better, shooting 36.8 percent against the Eagles.
The Tar Heels were clearly not sharp in the first half, compounding bad passes with poor field goal selections en route to missing 11 of their first 15 shots. Four of UNC's first eight 3-point attempts came from Henson, Justin Watts, Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall – not exactly a quartet known for draining treys.
Give credit where credit is due. UNC attacked the basket to start the second half and converted eight of its first 16 field goal attempts to build a 14-point lead. But the Tar Heels relapsed again with five late turnovers that allowed Boston College to cut a 13-point lead down to four in the final three minutes.
"It was five straight possessions that we had turnovers and you just can't do those kinds of things," Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. When asked if he was concerned about the team's recent slide in shooting percentage, Barnes replied, "Not at all."
"I still have as much confidence as I did at the beginning of the season in Leslie, Reggie, Dexter and myself," Barnes said.
Zeller Sparks Second-Half Run
Williams told reporters on Friday that Tyler Zeller needed to be more assertive, and that's exactly what the junior seven-footer did out of the halftime break against Boston College.
After the Eagles cut an early seven-point deficit to 21-20 at half, Zeller ignited a 16-3 UNC spurt with an aggressiveness that has been lacking at various times this season. On Boston College's second possession, Zeller blocked a Josh Southern attempt in the paint and secured the ball. Two possessions later, the Washington, Ind. product rebounded his own miss, scored on the putback and knocked down the corresponding free throw.
Zeller added another offensive rebound and putback before beating the Eagles down the court for an easy transition lay-up to jumpstart the Tar Heel offense. Four minutes and some change later, another Zeller basket gave UNC its biggest lead of the game at 37-23.
"It was one of those things where I just had a lot of opportunities," Zeller said. "[The coaches] kept telling me I needed to post lower and I felt like I was able to get the ball lower. I just got in places and I think all of our guards did a great job of getting me the ball in a position where I could make an impact."
Zeller only scored three more points, but he made a critical defensive play with 4:21 remaining as Corey Raji sliced through the lane and found Southern for an uncontested lay-up with Boston College already on an 8-0 run -- Zeller stepped into Raji's path and earned the charge.
Zeller's 16.8 points per game may overshadow his 8.4 rebounding average over his last five games, but that total includes 24 offensive rebounds (4.8 per game). That type of hustle suggests that the seven-footer is beginning to get the message on being more assertive.
High Marks for Donahue
Tar Heel fans and the local media are spoiled with the brutal honesty that Williams provides in press conferences and radio show segments. But most college basketball coaches toe the line in giving either politically correct responses or answers void of any real substance.
First-year Boston College head coach Steve Donahue appears to be an exception to that rule.
In discussing his 3-ball strategy (7-of-27) against the Tar Heels, Donahue alluded to what many Carolina observers have known for years – that UNC is not very effective in defending the 3-point shot.
"I know there were a lot of threes, but if you look at Carolina, they guard the lanes so well, but they don't necessarily guard the three well," Donahue said. "When you give up 36 percent from three, yet you're 40 [percent] overall… Most teams that are that good are down in the 20s guarding the three. And we're a team that shoots them. I don't think we took a bad three all night, we just didn't make them.
"If you're going to win here, I thought that was the way to beat them."
Several minutes later, Donahue offered his opinion for why this North Carolina team is so good defensively.
"I don't think there's anybody that big in college basketball with that kind of interior defense," Donahue said. "We played Texas A&M and they did a very good job with their length, but it's not nearly this length… You've got to be so intelligent. I don't know that there's anybody in college basketball than can score over them."
3-Point Stat Watch
North Carolina had connected on just 16.4 percent (9-of-55) of its 3-pointers in its previous three games against Duke, Clemson and Wake Forest. The Tar Heels improved on that mark against Boston College, but just barely – UNC made just two of its 11 3-pointers for an 18.2 percentage.
North Carolina has failed to shoot better than 18.5 percent from beyond the arc in each of its past four games. The overall percentage for that stretch? Try 16.7 percent on 11-of-66 shooting.
• The 48 points are the fewest ever scored by North Carolina in the Smith Center (Saturday was UNC's 361st game in the Smith Center). The previous low was 50 against Princeton on Dec. 13, 1997, in a 50-42 UNC victory.
• The 48 points are the fewest points by UNC in a victory since a 45-44 win at NC State on Feb. 12, 1997.
• The 94 combined points are the second-fewest in a game in the Smith Center. The low is the 92 scored by the Tar Heels and Princeton on Dec. 13, 1997.
• This is North Carolina's first game scoring fewer than 50 points since a 60-48 loss to Duke in Charlotte on March 8, 2002, in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
• The 48 points are the fewest scored by UNC in Roy Williams' eight years as head coach. Previous low was 50 at Duke on March 6, 2010.
• North Carolina held Boston College to 46 points, a season-low by the opponents (49 at Evansville). It was the fewest since an 89-42 win over NC Central last year.
• The 46 points were the fewest allowed by North Carolina in an ACC game since a 65-45 win over Clemson on Jan. 6, 2000. It was Boston College's fewest points this year (51 vs. Florida State) and the fewest by the Eagles ever in an ACC game (fewest since a 70-43 loss to Georgetown on Jan. 12, 2002).
• North Carolina has won three consecutive games in which both teams shot less than 40 percent from the floor in each of those games.
• Boston College's 14 made field goals ties the opponent low record during the Williams era, matching Virginia Tech (Feb. 16, 2008) and N.C. Central (Nov. 11, 2009).