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January 26, 2012

Heels cruise

North Carolina did what Carolina does so well on Thursday in a 74-55 victory against N.C. State at the Smith Center.

The seventh-ranked Tar Heels (17-3, 4-1 in the ACC) blocked shots, bothered others and generally cut off the lane from the Wolfpack's offense. So N.C. State (15-6, 4-2) had little choice buy to rely on jump shots, and most of those clanked off the rim and into waiting Tar Heel hands.

"They're good at blocking shots," first-year Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. "They're bigger than us. We didn't do a very good job of drawing fouls inside. I think that is where we got frustrated. Even if it was on the block, we stopped and stood around rather than continuing with our offense. That was the frustrating part for me."

Tyler Zeller's hands wrapped around 17 of those rebounds, while scoring 21 points. With 6 minutes and 54 seconds left in the first half, Zeller and the Wolfpack each had nine rebounds. UNC led 25-16 at that point, but the nightmare would only get worse for State.

"I've said all year that I think we have the chance to be a real good defensive team," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "We were really good for certain parts of the game; there's no question about that. I thought we were active defensively. We got some blocks. We got our running game going, and we were really good for that period of time."

The lone moment for the Wolfpack came with the clock nearing expiration in the first half. UNC point guard Kendall Marshall missed a driving shot at the basket, and N. C. State point guard Lorenzo Brown got the ball and launched it just before the horn sounded.

Approximately 80 feet later, the ball sailed through the rim for three points. The referees checked the television monitors to assure Brown had heaved the ball in time, and he had.

"That was impressive," Zeller said.

The downside for the Wolfpack is the long shot only cut the Tar Heels' lead to 37-23.

"We have battled from day one," Gottfried said, "and I believe we will keep battling. Tonight's disappointing, we all agree, but we're a better basketball team than we were tonight.

"Give North Carolina a lot of credit for that. They deserve the credit."

Carolina's defense squeezed the life out of the Wolfpack's offense. N.C. State shot just 25 percent from the floor in the first half, including Brown's first-half finale.

Harrison Barnes, who had 15 points and three steals, said the identity of this team needs to be defense from hereon through the rest of the season.

"I don't think we have been known as a defensive team," Barnes said. "But I think that is what we need to build on. We played good defense in the second half against Virginia Tech, and we did it tonight.

"Our defense has been the biggest thing to improve and now we can build on it."

Marshall had 11 assists and three turnovers.

The player who had a big impact on this game, but may have gotten lost among the performances of his teammates is Reggie Bullock. He started for the first time in his career, and replaced Carolina's defensive stopper, Dexter Strickland, who suffered a season-ending knee injury at Virginia Tech.

Bullock did an excellent job of guarding the Wolfpack's Scott Wood, who came into this game as State's leading scorer. Wood went 4-of-12 from the field, 3-of-9 from 3-point range.

Bullock used his size and athleticism to chase Wood throughout the game. Bullock also hit three 3-pointers, scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds.

"I know it meant a lot to him," Barnes said. "He's definitely been working very hard. He's always coming off the bench and contributing. So, finally, for him to be able to come out and start today … he's having a lot of fun."

There is little doubt all the Tar Heels enjoyed themselves as they knocked the Wolfpack back a couple of steps in their return to respectability.

"We have had some hard practices the last two weeks, and the kids really responded well," Williams said.


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