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No. 1 North Carolina (1-0) jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead, but the young Spartans (0-1) responded with a 15-2 spurt ignited by controlling the backboards. The Tar Heels got their transition game rolling and began attacking the rim to regain the momentum with a 28-10 run to close the first half with a 36-25 advantage.
UNC opened the second half with a 7-2 spurt to increase its lead and eventually built a 59-39 margin with 10:42 left to play. Michigan State closed the gap to 59-49 with a 10-0 run, but could not get any closer.
Harrison Barnes led all scorers with 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting. John Henson flirted with a triple-double with 12 points, nine blocks and seven rebounds, while Dexter Strickland added 10 points and five assists.
Michigan State's Draymond Green posted a double-double with 13 points and 18 rebounds. Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne both scored 10 points for the Spartans.
North Carolina shot 47.1 percent from the floor (24-of-51), while holding Michigan State to 30.6 percent (22-of-72). UNC forced 15 turnovers and committed 14.
The Tar Heels were recognized for winning the event in a ceremony following the game. Newport News Shipbuilding designed and built the event's trophy, which weighs 65 pounds and stands 29 inches tall.
North Carolina improved its record in season-opening games to 90-12 and has won 77 of its last 82, including seven straight.
INSIDE THE GAME
Playing for the Military
The USS Carl Vinson is 1,092 feet long, stands 244 feet high and holds a crew of 2,491 sailors and officers. Its call sign is the "Golden Eagle" and its nuclear propulsion enables the vessel to reach a top speed of more than 30 knots (34.5-plus miles per hour). The flight deck on which the basketball court was installed covers 4.5 acres of real estate.
But while plenty of media coverage this week focused on the aircraft carrier itself, the real story is the millions of military personnel – past and present – that this event was intended to honor. A sliver of that population joined the President in the makeshift stands on the flight deck as the Tar Heels and Spartans represented the rest of the country in showing their appreciation with a primetime performance.
"We love you every day for what you do," UNC head coach Roy Williams told the crowd following the game. "Thank you very much for making this a great night."
As the two teams came together at the jump circle after the final buzzer sounded, Green approached the Tar Heels and suggested both rosters take off their camouflage jerseys and give them to the Wounded Warriors sitting courtside.
"I think that was a great idea," Strickland said. "At least we can give something back to them for fighting for our country and giving us the opportunity to play on an aircraft carrier."
Barnes agreed with his teammate and added that the excitement on their faces was telling.
"For all of the things that they do for us, literally giving a part of themselves, just so that we can live our every day lives," Barnes said. "It was gratifying to see that they got so much enjoyment out of getting our jerseys."
Problems on the Boards
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and UNC head coach Roy Williams share a similar philosophical belief in building a team's foundation by owning the glass, but the Spartans failed to deliver their normal production on the backboards in '10-11, ranking 48th nationally with a 4.0 rebounding margin.
But even with a short supply of returning talent on hand, the Spartans claimed an early seven-point lead by pushing UNC around on the boards. With 11:57 remaining in the first half, Michigan State held a 16-4 rebounding advantage, including a 8-1 margin on the offensive glass.
"They were just beating us to the boards, unfortunately," senior Tyler Zeller said. "It's something that we're not proud of and that we need to work on, but I think they were doing a fantastic job with three or four people getting to the boards."
That differential grew to 21-8 (10-1 OR) several minutes later, and while the Tar Heels were more aggressive on the glass over the final 25 minutes of play, Michigan State was relentless. For the game, the Spartans outrebounded UNC 49-34 (24-8 OR).
"We've got to rebound the basketball better," Williams said. "That's the biggest thing for us."
Enduring the Elements
The outside weather conditions may have turned out to play a more significant role than most expected aboard the USS Carl Vinson.
Once the sun dropped below the horizon in the first half, the breeze that been around all day combined with temperatures in the upper-50s to create a chilly atmosphere. One particular spot on the floor – just outside the jump circle on the UNC bench's side of the court – caused some problems early. Brendan Dawson had a bad fall early and then Keith Appling slipped on the same spot moments later.
A group of towel boys spent most of the timeouts making sure that area, as well as others, stayed dry.
But just how big of a role did the wind play in affecting perimeter shots? Could that be the reason the two teams combined to shoot 18.8 percent (6-of-32) from 3-point territory?
That answer was met with a resounding "no" in postgame interviews.
"The weather was good," Barnes said. "That was definitely something we were concerned about. We had long sleeves ready to go and that was something we were monitoring, but we didn't have any problems tonight, so it was good."