After Texas guard J’Covan Brown drained a 3-pointer to tie the score at 6-6, North Carolina (11-2) went on a 13-1 spurt to take command at 19-7. UNC leaned on a strong defensive effort to spark its transition game and eventually built an 18-point first-half lead before taking a 39-23 advantage into halftime.
The Tar Heels increased their lead to 50-29, but the Longhorns (9-3) stayed alive with a 9-2 run to cut their deficit to 52-38. UNC ended any thoughts of a rally with an immediate 8-0 spurt to push its lead back to 20 points. North Carolina led by as many as 24 points with under three minutes to play.
John Henson (14 points, 8 rebounds) and Reggie Bullock (12 pts, 6 rebs) joined Barnes in double figures, while Tyler Zeller added eight points and 11 rebounds. Kendall Marshall’s nine assists move him past Raymond Felton for the most assists by a Tar Heel through 50 games (361).
Brown, Jonathan Holmes and Sheldon McClellan each scored 16 points for the Longhorns.
North Carolina connected on 44.4 percent of its field goal attempts (28-of-63) and held Texas to 34.8 percent shooting (24-of-69). UNC outrebounded the Longhorns, 49-34.
INSIDE THE GAME
Defense Spurs Fast Start
After slow starts to open both halves against Nicholls on Monday, UNC reversed that trend with defensive intensity to assert control over the Longhorns in the opening minutes on Wednesday.
“I think we were more attentive to detail,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “We were much more active defensively than we have been.”
Texas missed 14 of its first 17 field goal attempts and North Carolina scored 10 points off turnovers in building a 19-7 lead with 12:00 remaining before halftime.
Five different Tar Heels registered a steal in the first half as UNC forced nine turnovers, scoring 13 points off those miscues.
“Just overall, I think the team was much more focused tonight,” Zeller said. “I think Dexter did a spectacular job chasing J’Covan Brown around and we had great attention to detail. Obviously, we weren’t perfect and we can improve on it, but I think everybody overall did a great job of helping each other and just being there defensively.”
For the half, Texas shot 25 percent on 9-of-36 shooting.
Barnes Returns to Form for Primetime Contest
The Longhorns finished their shootaround at the Smith Center around noon on Wednesday, and while Williams was waiting to talk to Texas head coach Rick Barnes, Harrison Barnes was waiting for access to the floor to get up some shots.
His teammates eventually joined him for a 30-minute shootaround scheduled for 1:45pm. That type of dedication is one of the reasons Williams had a feeling that Barnes would deliver in the showcase matchup with Texas.
“The biggest thing is I think he’s a competitive kid and things haven’t gone as well recently,” Williams said. “Better opponents sometimes I think fires him up even more.”
There’s no doubt about that last comment. Barnes made a name for himself as a freshman with numerous clutch shots and performances and that trend has continued this season.
In seven games either on the road or against power conference opponents, Barnes is averaging 18.6 points on 50 percent shooting (43-of-86) and 5.0 rebounds. In the other six contests, Barnes is averaging 14.8 points on 44.9 percent shooting (35-of-78) and 4.7 rebounds.
According to Barnes, the improved play in big-game situations is due to “a heightened level of concentration.” In other words, while talent may win out against lesser opponents, it takes a little more against quality competition.
“It’s always fun,” Barnes said. “I’ve always loved being in big games because all of my favorite players always thrived in big games, so it’s definitely something that I look forward to.”
P.J. and Reggie Keep Producing
As the games fall off the schedule, Bullock and Hairston continue to make significant strides in closing the gap between reserve status and additional starting options. When Harrison Barnes picked up his second foul with 6:48 to play before halftime, Bullock replaced the preseason All-America and scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds in 12 minutes of first-half action.
Hairston (5 pts, 2 rebs) solidified his role as a crowd energizer with a thunderous dunk over Julien Lewis in transition that brought back memories of Danny Green’s epic slam over Greg Paulus at Cameron Indoor.
Bullock’s 12 points marked his fifth-straight game in double figures, the longest current streak on the team. He’s also averaging 7.3 rebounds per game over his last three outings. Hairston has posted 28 points and nine rebounds over the same three-game stretch.
“We just know that we have to be that power off the bench and bring that energy from me and P.J. shooting and our aggressiveness,” Bullock said. “… We’ve just got to keep that consistency throughout the season.”
When Williams was asked if Bullock had delivered the consistency in recent weeks that he wanted earlier in season, the ninth-year UNC head coach replied, “Much more so than he was.”
“I think the biggest thing is being active on the backboards,” Williams said. “He gets some things accomplished there…. We really need Reggie to be a big threat for us.”