Elon (7-5) played North Carolina (12-2) tough off the tip and trailed just 18-14 with 11:16 to play, but the Tar Heels exploded with a 35-5 run to close the first half. UNC’s 53-19 lead at the break represents its largest halftime lead of the season.
The Tar Heels eventually increased their lead to 88-38 with 8:49 remaining.
Tyler Zeller led UNC with 19 points and 13 rebounds, while John Henson also delivered a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Harrison Barnes added 18 points, five rebounds and a career-high five assists. Dexter Strickland contributed 10 points and Kendall Marshall scored eight points and dished out eight assists against just one turnover.
Sebastian Koch paced Elon with 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting from 3-point territory. Lucas Troutman posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Phoenix.
North Carolina shot 47.0 percent on 39-of-83 shooting, while holding Elon to 33.3 percent (26-of-78, 7-of-28 on 3-pointers). UNC outrebounded Elon, 64-35.
The Tar Heels tied the school record for most consecutive wins at the Smith Center with 25 (’92-’94). The school record for consecutive wins at UNC stands at 32 at the Tin Can (’26-‘29).
INSIDE THE GAME
Zeller on the Glass
Zeller averaged 7.1 rebounds through his first seven games of the season. That statistic has increased to 10.3 rebounds per game over his last seven.
The primary factor in that differential has been Zeller’s play on the offensive glass. The senior forward averaged 2.7 offensive rebounds through seven games, which included three games with one or less. But since that time, Zeller is averaging 5.1 rebounds per game with a low of three offensive rebounds. In five of those seven games, Zeller has pulled down as many or more offensive rebounds as defensive rebounds.
On Thursday, the seven-footer grabbed a career-high nine offensive rebounds.
But don’t make the mistake of assuming that UNC head coach Roy Williams gushed over Zeller’s rebounding during his postgame press conference.
“Tonight he missed a lot of shots because half of his offensive rebounds were his own misses,” Williams said. “That’s padding your rebounding totals. But he has been working hard – our whole team has been working harder on the backboards.”
Zeller provided similar comments to reporters in the locker room.
“It’s always great to be able to get 13 rebounds, but I would hope it would be 13 rebounds not off my own shots,” Zeller said. “But it’s just something that I think the last few games John has been pulled out more, so I knew I had to do better rebounding inside. And then offensively, just trying to get to the boards to get more possessions.”
When asked his increase in rebounding production over the past month, Zeller’s response was brutally honest: “I don’t know.”
“Sometimes you get lucky and they fall in your hands,” he continued. “Some of it is just being in the right spot and I think some of it is just being more aggressive trying to get more rebounds.”
Zeller has grabbed 10 or more rebounds in four straight games and in five of his last six.
Anatomy of a Run
When Lucas Troutman grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to cut UNC’s lead to 18-14 midway through the first half, it appeared as though the Phoenix would be able to hang around for a while. But the Tar Heels quickly dismissed that thought with a 23-0 run that marks the best streak for UNC since a 25-0 spurt against N.C. State on Jan. 12, 2008.
Six different Tar Heels scored during the run. UNC connected on 10 of its 24 shots, but capitalized with eight offensive rebounds.
Elon missed 14 straight field goal attempts before Koch broke the eight-minute, 15-second drought on a field goal with 3:01 remaining. The Phoenix took just 10 shots in their first 14 possessions of the run, thanks to four turnovers and no second-chance opportunities.
“I think [the run] started on defense,” Strickland said. “I think we did a great job of contesting their shots. Harrison and me running the break – I think we did a great job of running the floor in fast breaks. Everybody did their job and I think that’s why.”
Stomach Bug Equals Motivation?
The pregame word was that Barnes had been battling a stomach bug since Wednesday and may be limited, but was still expected to play. He confirmed after the game that he was running a fever and throwing up the night before.
For a player of his stature that is known to elevate his play against elite competition, did Barnes’s illness serve as just another motivational factor?
Barnes answered that question with a “yes” during his postgame interview with reporters.
“I think just with this team you don’t want to have any excuses,” Barnes said. “The younger guys look up to some of us who have been here before, so you don’t want to not play and [allow] them to have that same excuse later.”
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