Both teams lit up the net off the tip, combining for 38 points before the first media timeout. North Carolina (8-2) used a 8-2 run to grab a 28-20 lead, but the 49ers (4-5) responded with a 9-2 spurt and closed the first half on a 25-12 tear to give UNC its first halftime deficit of the season at 45-40.
Long Beach State increased its lead to 51-45 before Bullock’s spark off the bench ignited the crowd and his teammates. UNC built a 72-61 margin on a 13-2 spurt and the 49ers would not get within six points for the remainder of the game.
John Henson led North Carolina with 24 points on career-highs of 12 field goals and 17 field goal attempts. The junior forward also pulled down 10 rebounds. Harrison Barnes scored 20 points, Tyler Zeller added 17 points and Bullock finished with 15 of 6-of-10 shooting (3-of-7 on 3-pointers).
Kendall Marshall matched his career-high with 16 assists against just two turnovers.
Casper Ware paced Long Beach State with 29 points. Larry Anderson scored 17 points and T.J. Robinson added a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
North Carolina shot 51.5 percent (35-of-68) from the floor, but allowed the 49ers to knock down 47.1 percent of their attempts. Long Beach State won the rebounding battle, 36-34.
INSIDE THE GAME
Reggie to the Rescue
UNC head coach Roy Williams didn’t wait for a question about how important Bullock’s lift off the bench was for his club in the second half.
“Reggie was huge,” Williams told reporters during his opening statement of the postgame press conference. “I was very discouraged with some of the things that were going on out there. Dexter’s 1-for-4, Kendall’s 1-for-6, P.J.’s 0-for-3, and thank goodness, Reggie came in and decided he was going to make some shots for us from the perimeter.”
When asked about his eight-straight points and 11 during UNC’s game-changing 17-8 run, Bullock softly replied: “My teammates trust me and they expect me to do that, so I just have to perform when it’s that time.”
But while it’s tempting just to focus on Bullock’s perimeter shooting in the second half, it was his defense that set the tone for the rangy sophomore in the first half.
Bullock’s first field goal came off a steal, and after defensive rebounds on Long Beach State’s next two possessions, the Kinston, N.C. native found himself woven into the game.
Williams complimented Bullock on improving other areas of his game in addition to his shooting. Current staff member Jackie Manuel has worked with him on improving his defensive technique and rebounding skills, and Bullock indicated that he has also worked on being a coach from the sideline and being an energy guy off the bench.
Because while it’s helpful to drain big-time shots when called upon, the ultimate goal is to help your team whenever you step foot on the floor.
“When you’re not knocking your shot down, you need to get to the boards and just play with energy out there, enthusiasm, feed your teammates and get assists,” Bullock said. “The points are going to come off your defensive effort.”
Ware on Fire Early
Williams gives his team three keys to focus on before every game, and on Saturday, one of those highlights was to contain Casper Ware. That didn’t happen in the opening six minutes of play.
“He’s the motor that drives their team and early on he got loose,” Marshall said.
Ware drained four 3-pointers and added a two-point field goal for good measure before the first media timeout.
“He was like the friendly ghost – he went wherever he wanted to go,” Williams said.
The Tar Heels expressed concern in the locker room that Ware may not cool off.
“I thought he was on pace for 60,” Barnes said. “I was very worried, but we just had to defend the ball screen better. He came out just on fire and you have to give credit to him for that.”
After scoring 21 first-half points, Marshall and Dexter Strickland played tighter man-to-man defense in the second half and Bullock even got some minutes guarding the 5-foot-10 point in an attempt to bother him with length. That effort proved successful.
Ware scored a bucket 30 seconds after halftime to give Long Beach State a four-point lead, but wouldn’t score again for 10 minutes. By that time, North Carolina had flipped the momentum and grabbed an eight-point lead.
Marshall’s Assist Count Rising
This is how routine Kendall Marshall’s double-digit assist games have become – he tied his career-high with 16 assists on Saturday night and there was not one question asked about his performance during the postgame press conference. But that’s what happens when you set the bar ridiculously high.
Marshall is the only player in North Carolina history to have more than one game with 15 assists and not only does he have four, but he has three in his last nine outings. The sophomore already has 102 assists through 10 games this season and needs just 183 over the 20 remaining regular season contests to break Ed Cota’s season record. Cota also needed six postseason games to set that mark.
Against Long Beach State, Marshall started slow with four assists and two turnovers in the first half, but with finished with 12 assists and no turnovers as UNC rallied in the second half. As usual, Marshall deflected any hint at praise in his postgame interview.
“My teammates were making shots – I have to give them full credit for that,” Marshall said. “We also got out into the break and were able to get a lot more easy baskets.”
For the season, Marshall is averaging 10.2 assists per game and owns 3.78:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
He made it clear, however, that his tendency to be so giving to his teammates wouldn’t extend into the holiday shopping season.
“I hope they don’t expect anything that costs money,” Marshall said. “They should just be happy with me passing the ball to them.”