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January 7, 2012Third-ranked Carolina's 83-60 victory against Boston College on Saturday would not rate Picasso status, but neither was it an Elvis on black velvet.
The Eagles (5-10, 0-1 in the ACC) played better than probably most people probably expected, given BC started five freshmen in the first conference game of their lives. Yet UNC (14-2, 1-0) played impressively at both ends of the court during different stretches of the game.
"I thought we came out a little sluggish," said Harrison Barnes, who led the Tar Heels with 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting. "But we were able to concentrate down the stretch.
"I think the biggest thing we have to do right now is concentrate. We can't have mental lapses in a game. Today was kind of a wake-up call that conference games are going to be tougher than the 15 games we played previously. Teams are not going to beat themselves."
UNC forced 20 Boston College turnovers, but the Eagles overcame their mistakes by sticking to their game plan, hustling down court, making sure to have proper spacing on offense, while moving the ball to find open shooters.
"This is a classic example of league play," Barnes said. "You may look at the record and say, 'This team is not as good as Elon.'
"Really, this is an ACC team. That is a good basketball team."
The Eagles hung tough at the start, trailing by four points (18-14) with 10 minutes and 13 seconds left in the first half. Part of that was UNC failing to finish on offense and part of that was BC driving baseline early and hitting some jump shots to start the game.
As so often is the case, the Tar Heels then hit BC with an explosive run. From that 10:13 point until the end of the half, Carolina increased its lead to 13 points (40-27).
In the second half, the Tar Heels stretched the lead to 20 points (52-32), but the Eagles turned right around and cut it to nine points (59-50) with 9:19 left.
"In the second half," BC second-year coach Steve Donahue said, "it looked like Carolina was just going to shove us out the door. I felt [the Eagles] showed a lot of character and toughness.
"We were down nine and were not shooting the ball particularly well; we were not making foul shots, so I think it speaks a lot about the character in these young kids."
Donahue had equal praise for the Tar Heels, whom he coached against last season.
"I thought we let our guard down," Donahue said of UNC's final run to break the game open for good. "We just kind of forgot who we were playing. We lost a little sense of simple things, like putting solid ball pressure and rotating. We just didn't do that well.
"But you have to give Carolina credit. They are a lot better basketball team than they were last year. In particular, the three kids [Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Barnes] who decided to stay around. I think they are playing with a purpose. All three frontline guys have gotten substantially better in my opinion, and I think that is more of the product you saw at that point."
Zeller finished with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting. He grabbed eight rebounds and made 4 of his 5 free-throw attempts. Henson finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots.
Barnes had five rebounds, but his career-high four steals is what stood out the most after his balanced and efficient scoring.
"There is such a difference [in Barnes]," Donahue said. "Just watch his body language out there. It is so different. First of all, his body is a lot different. He looks a lot better. He has such a purpose to his game now.
"Everything is sharper. He has a sense of where his teammates are. He understands he can slow down when he needs to slow down. That is a good thing for [BC's players] to see. They will not realize until next year how hard it was the first year.
"Harrison Barnes is as talented a player as there is in the country. I think he gets it, too. He has a nice head on his shoulders. He has a sense of not just playing well, but helping his team win."
Carolina coach Roy Williams had mixed emotions about how his team played and admiration for how the Eagles performed, particularly with so many of the BC kids playing in the first ACC game of their career, on the road and at UNC.
"I was really impressed with Steve's club," Williams said. "They had five freshmen in the starting lineup, and I don't think they never got shaken. We tried to take them out of the things they wanted to do, and I don't think we did a really good job of it.
"In league play you have to be able to play the whole game for 40 minutes. I told them it was very reasonable that I was upset and they need to play better."
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