UNC regains heart following FSU drubbing

BY foxsports • January 20, 2012

BLACKSBURG, Va. --- North Carolina found heart Thursday night.

Really, the Tar Heels had no choice after Saturday's emasculating, 33-point demolition at Florida State. Staring at a fork in the road, Carolina made the right choice in an 82-68 rout of Virginia Tech that was far more decisive than the final margin indicates.

The prevailing question this week regarded UNC's heart and whether or not the Tar Heels had enough of one to win a national championship. They were called too soft, it was said they lacked focus, and some even suggested this collection of McDonald's All-Americans and future NBA players didn't care enough.

Those were mostly silly notions to anyone who has seen this team on a regular basis, but there was enough credence to raise the concern meter that made Thursday's affair one of the truly more fascinating games of the regular season.

Again, phooey to those who say the college basketball regular season doesn't mean much, if anything. The layering process by teams can be truly remarkable, it's just that in a world of instant gratification, patience is a forgotten art.

That said, patience isn't something UNC's sprawling fan base would exercise with this team, nor would its Hall of Fame coach. Carolina is too darn good to get crushed by a mediocre team again, and to allow such a debacle to keep it down for an extended period of time.

So the best known of the Heels (16-3, 3-1 ACC), the player who has probably taken the greatest beating in the media and by fans in various social networking circles, showed the most want, and it was infectious.

Harrison Barnes put on a show against the Hokies. His skills are obvious – and growing – but the determination the 6-foot-8 sophomore showed on both ends if the floor was the trigger that got Carolina going.

"Harrison Barnes was Harrison Barnes in the second half," said UNC sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall. "He didn't settle for the jump shot as much. He tried to take it to the rack, and he did a great job of finishing.

"That's the type of player he can be. I think he's capable of so much more. We're not going to be happy with that performance because we know how great he is."

Barnes had scored just 21 points combined in UNC's previous two contests, but his 27-point explosion Thursday was a majestic performance reminiscent of some of Carolina's more notable legends from times past. And it came at exactly the right time.

Barnes did it with perimeter jumpers, follow-up jams, drives to the basket for slams, and by getting to the free-throw line. On the other end of the floor, he made his defense of Dorenzo Hudson personal.

Hudson drained all four of his 3-point attempts in helping Virginia Tech build a 39-34 halftime lead, so part of UNC's mission was to shut him down. Barnes drew the responsibility.

So, a sequence where he blocked one of Hudson's 3-point attempts and a minute later stroked one of his own gave Barnes a brief platform to look right into the Hokies' eyes while barking a message of strength.

"I just had to do whatever the team needs," Barnes said. "We definitely pushed the ball more and got it in transition. When you pressure the defense, it opens up a lot of things."

Carolina's perimeter defense was awful in the first half. Virginia Tech converted half of its 16 3-point attempts, including Hudson's 4-for-4 performance. Ironically, Hudson had made just three total in Tech's previous six contests.

But UNC wasn't going to let Hudson or anyone else do a Deividas Dulkys impersonation – he sank 8 of 10 from beyond the arc versus UNC Saturday. So stout were the Tar Heels, the Hokies went 18 consecutive possessions without a field goal while Carolina turned a 44-36 deficit into a 62-46 lead.

Overall, Carolina's decisive run reached 19-0, 26-2, 31-5 and eventually 40-11.

It wasn't just Barnes. John Henson blocked six shots on the night and flexed what muscles he has. Tyler Zeller hit the floor going after a ball, Reggie Bullock found his way to three offensive rebounds that had escaped him in recent games, and overall, UNC out-boarded the Hokies 28-9 after halftime.

It was a dominating performance by a team that responded well to Saturday's shellacking, may have added a layer ruggedness to its soul, and clearly got every message sent in practice the last few days.

"It was the practices after the Florida State game," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "I think no one wanted to go back to that. Everyone wants to enjoy this week and be able to go to class."

Mission accomplished.


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