No. 25 UNC struggles to victory over Bulldogs
By AARON BEARD
AP Basketball Writer
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- Tyler Zeller scored a career-high 23 points and No. 25 North Carolina blew most of a 22-point, second-half lead before beating UNC Asheville 80-69 on Tuesday night.
Freshman Harrison Barnes added 13 points for the Tar Heels (3-2), who regrouped after losing two straight games during the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. But on what appeared to be an easy night, North Carolina couldn't put away the Bulldogs (2-2) and instead found itself protecting a six-point lead with 4 minutes to play.
The Tar Heels held on to improve to 7-0 in the series against the instate program from the Big South Conference. But this couldn't have been a confidence-builder for a young team that struggled in back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Vanderbilt in Puerto Rico.
Zeller provided some good news by setting his career high in scoring for the second straight game.
J.P. Primm scored 21 points to lead UNC Asheville, which opened the season by rallying from a 16-point deficit on the road to beat Auburn in overtime. While the Bulldogs didn't come all that close to pulling off a bigger upset, they did give North Carolina a bit of a wake-up call -- something the Tar Heels shouldn't have needed considering what happened the previous two games.
In the losses to Minnesota and Vanderbilt, the Tar Heels didn't match the Gophers' and Commodores' physical play inside and failed to push the pace and get the easy baskets that drive Roy Williams' fast-paced attack. The Tar Heels barely stayed in the Top 25 this week after starting the season at No. 8. Williams said he isn't having flashbacks to last season's 17-loss campaign yet.
This performance likely won't help on that front.
North Carolina shot 54 percent in the first half to build a 44-31 lead, then opened the second half with an 11-2 spurt that ended with Zeller's hook shot for a 55-33 lead with 16:43 left.
But from there, the Tar Heels seemed content to cruise the rest of the way while the Bulldogs kept fighting. They inched their way back, cutting the deficit to 11 points with 6 minutes left before getting as close as 70-64 on a 3 from Primm with 5:06 to play.
The Tar Heels answered when Justin Knox scored on a goaltending call, and Zeller added two free throws to push the lead back to 10 points with 3 minutes left. But by then, Williams was clearly frustrated -- at one point throwing both hands on his head in frustration when Larry Drew II stepped out of bounds on a drive with about 2 minutes to play.
The Tar Heels played without freshman swingman Reggie Bullock, who sat out as a precaution because of a sore left knee.
Updated November 23, 2010