Mississippi Valley State (0-3) leaned on its senior-laden starting lineup to control the pace early, overcoming a 9-4 deficit to tie the score at 12-12. UNC (3-0) utilized a 13-2 spurt to take a 41-27 lead into the locker room.
North Carolina utilized a 25-7 run midway through the second half to open up an 82-52 margin. Eleven different Tar Heels logged at least five minutes of action and eight played 14 or more minutes.
John Henson (18 points, 14 rebounds) and Harrison Barnes (18 pts, 7 rebs) combined to lead UNC in scoring. Tyler Zeller added 16 points and 10 rebounds, while James Michael McAdoo contributed 10 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Dexter Strickland continued his strong play with 13 points, six assists and six rebounds.
Brent Arrington led all scorers with 33 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting. Terrence Joyner (11) and Cor-J Cox (10) also scored in double digits for MVSU.
North Carolina shot 46.0 percent (40-of-87) from the floor and held the Delta Devils to 38.2 percent (29-of-76). UNC forced 21 turnovers and posted a 27-15 assist-to-turnover margin.
INSIDE THE GAME
Henson Showcasing New Offensive Game
If you thought Henson connecting on a smooth jump hook or knocking down a 12-face-up footer against Michigan State in the season opener was a fluke, then you weren’t alone. But the 6-foot-10 Tar Heel followed suit with a strong offensive showing last Sunday against UNC Asheville and then did the same against the Delta Devils in UNC’s home opener.
After struggling to find any resemblance of a consistent scoring threat in his first two seasons as a Tar Heel, Henson has shocked most and surprised everyone else with a polished set of offensive moves.
UNC head coach Roy Williams pointed to Henson’s jump hook to his left shoulder against Asheville as standing out because of his previous tendency to always go to his right. In all three games, Henson has forced defenders to follow him outside the paint after watching him convert a handful of face-up jumpers.
Henson told reporters following the game that he was never uncomfortable shooting the ball as an underclassman. It was just a matter of the ball not going in.
That’s changed dramatically. Henson scored 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting on Sunday, making his season field goal percentage 60 percent (21-of-35). Williams likes for his post players to convert 55-60 percent of their field goal opportunities.
Henson has benefited from the NBA lockout in the sense that more Tar Heel professionals were around Chapel Hill this summer to participate in the legendary pickup games.
“I think what really helped me was playing against the pros and them making you shoot it,” Henson said. “It’s just something I’ve been working on. It’s the third game and hopefully I can keep it up through March.”
Rasheed Wallace has played the biggest role in helping Henson develop.
“He texts me after every game and we talk a little bit and he gives me some pointers and things of that nature,” Henson said. “So I think we have a good relationship and he’s helped me a lot as well just from watching him and seeing what he does against us. I can say I stole some of his [moves] and he taught me a few tricks as well.”
Henson is averaging 16.7 points per game through three games after averaging 11.7 points per game in ’10-11.
Charitable on the Charity Stripe
North Carolina went to the free throw line eight times in the opening 18 minutes with an opportunity to score two points and failed to do so. Seven two-shot fouls and a 1-and-1 opportunity only netted five points.
The Tar Heels missed 11 of their 19 free throws in the first half, but shot better after the break in connecting on 8-of-12 attempts from the stripe. For the game, UNC managed a 51.6 percentage (16-of-31).
The irony involved is that Williams gave his team instructions last Wednesday or Thursday to have a manager track and record 100 free throws before the pregame meal on Sunday.
“The worst percentage we had out of all 16 guys was 78 out of 100,” Williams said. “So maybe we shouldn’t shoot free throws right before a game.”
Eight Tar Heels shot at least one free throw against MVSU and each player missed at least one.
“I shot 81 percent before the game,” Barnes said. “Today I probably shot 40.”
Barnes nailed his percentage guess – he converted two of his five attempts.
UNC is currently shooting 62.9 percent (56-of-89) from the free throw line this season.
“I think when it matters, we’ll hit them,” Henson said.
There’s evidence to back up Henson’s comment. In North Carolina’s 14 nonconference games before the start of ACC play last season, the Tar Heels shot 63.6 percent from the free throw line. In its final 23 games, UNC shot 69.7 percent.
Slow Start from Deep
The Tar Heels have failed to shoot over 33.3 percent from the 3-point line in any game this season, including a 26.3 percent effort (5-of-19) on Sunday.
Reggie Bullock found a rhythm late and knocked down three of his eight attempts from long range, while P.J. Hairston connected on two of his seven attempts. Barnes missed all three of his 3-pointers and Kendall Marshall was the only other Tar Heels to try a trey, but missed.
“They can really shoot the basketball,” Williams said. “I’m telling you, Harrison can really shoot it. He’s got one wide open at the top of the key. Reggie’s got two wide open on set plays [and] P.J.’s got two. We kept missing them, but they made some at the end. They’re eventually going to start making some. You’d like for them to shoot a little better percentage than 5-for-19.”