North Carolina (14-2, 0-1 AC) opened the game with an 8-2 run and added spurts of 7-0 and 12-0 in the first half to keep Boston College (5-10, 0-1 ACC) at a distance. UNC led by as many as 14 before taking a 40-27 lead into halftime.
The Tar Heels increased their lead to 50-29 less than four minutes into the second half, but the Eagles responded with a 21-9 run to fight back to within nine points. UNC closed on a 24-8 spurt before a late Boston College basket sealed the final score.
Barnes’s 25 points marks the third time in four games that he’s eclipsed the 20-point plateau. Tyler Zeller added 20 points and eight rebounds, while John Henson scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Kendall Marshall dished out 11 assists, marking his seventh double-figure assist game this season.
Matt Humphrey led Boston College with 14 points and Ryan Anderson added 13. The Eagles committed 20 turnovers against just 12 assists.
UNC shot 47.0 percent from the floor (31-of-66) and 35.7 percent from long range (5-of-14).
North Carolina extended its Smith Center winning streak record to 27 games.
INSIDE THE GAME
Defensive Lapse Gives Boston College Hope
Boston College entered Saturday’s ACC opener ranked 12th in the ACC in field goal percentage (41.4) and ninth in 3-point field goal percentage (33.9). North Carolina essentially held the Eagles to those averages – 42.1 FG%, 33.3 3FG% -- but the second-half charge propped up those statistics.
Trailing 50-29 with 16:11 to play, Boston College knocked down 8-of-9 field goals attempts, including four 3-pointers, to spur a 21-9 run and inch within single digits at 59-50.
UNC head coach Roy Williams agreed that a lack of concentration was partly responsible for the defensive lapse during that stretch.
“In league play, you’ve got to be able to play the total game,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to do it for 40 minutes.”
Williams referenced three specific plays: (1) Marshall helped in the post after the coaches told the team not to help and the result was a 3-pointer; (2) Barnes went under a screen when told to go over a screen and his man knocked down a trey; and (3) Barnes went below another screen, Zeller jumped out to help and his man scored in the post.
“We got up by a little bit and we stopped playing defense like we should have,” Henson said.
Scoring Concerns in the Backcourt
Williams ran the gamut in his postgame press conference in dissecting his team’s offensive production. He praised his front court for all shooting above 50 percent, criticized his bench players for combining on a 4-of-18 display, defended Dexter Strickland’s efforts by highlighting his defense and his season-long field goal percentage (54.5) and also complimented Marshall on his court vision.
The ninth-year head coach even poked fun at media members that have suggested that P.J. Hairston or Reggie Bullock should start in Strickland’s place.
The concern, however, is not that there needs to be a change in the starting backcourt – it’s hard to find any reason to be critical of Marshall and Strickland’s game has improved dramatically since he arrived on campus – but if the current makeup of the backcourt is capable of the offensive production that will be required when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.
The ’05 title team’s starting guard tandem of Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants averaged 28.9 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting, including a 43.1 mark from 3-point range. The ’09 backcourt of Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington averaged 32.4 points per game on 50.4 percent shooting, including a 43.6 percentage from long range.
Both duos averaged roughly four made 3-pointers and attempted just over 20 field goals per game.
Marshall and Strickland are currently averaging 13.2 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting, including a 28.6 percentage from beyond the arc. They are attempting a combined 10 field goals per game and have connected on just eight 3-pointers in 16 games. Marshall’s 41.1 field goal percentage is the lowest on the team for players averaging more than six minutes a game.
Marshall and Strickland combined for 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting on Saturday.
Strickland told reporters that the coaching staff has emphasized the need for him and Marshall to be more aggressive on offense and to take more shots to help open the floor for Barnes, Henson and Zeller. Marshall joked that he must have missed that meeting, but indicated that the focus needs to be on doing what helps the team most.
“[The coaches] just want the defense to respect us and to take the right shots for us that are great shots for our team,” Marshall said.
Place Marshall alongside McCants or Strickland alongside Lawson and this discussion is irrelevant, but that’s not the current setup.
Boston College head coach Steve Donahue admitted that his strategy was to play Marshall “as a passer as much as you can.”
That will undoubtedly be an approach that UNC will encounter over and over again between now and March Madness. The key will be in the duo’s ability to knock down the open shots that opposing defenses give to them and to create off the dribble when required in halfcourt sets.
Despite finding themselves in an early 8-2 hole, the Eagles challenged the Tar Heels with a pair of first-half runs. A 7-0 spurt gave Boston College its first and only lead of the game at 9-8, but UNC promptly answered with a 7-0 run of its own to build its lead back to 15-9.
Ryan Anderson drained a 3-pointer and Matt Humphrey added a jumper in transition to inch the Eagles back to within 15-14, but the Tar Heels once again had an immediate response. Barnes quieted the mini-run with a 3-pointer and sparked a 12-0 run that gave UNC plenty of breathing room.
The Eagles utilized a lengthy 21-9 run over seven minutes in the second half to cut their deficit to nine points, but UNC once again struck back with a 15-5 spurt that ended any hopes of a comeback.
“That’s just what kind of team we are – we go on runs,” Henson said. “We [create] runs and get out on the fastbreak. As a team we just keep pushing it. I think we went on a little run to push it from 12 to 20 in two minutes. That’s the kind of thing that we do.”