ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP)—After a long flight and dawn arrival the morning before for the top-ranked Tar Heels, Tyler Zeller made sure North Carolina didn’t have a letdown.
Zeller scored 27 points to help North Carolina fight off UNC Asheville 91-75 Sunday in the debut of the Bulldogs’ new Kimmel Arena.
Less than 48 hours after beating Michigan State on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego, the Tar Heels (2-0) shot 59 percent from the field and overcame some early turnover troubles to win a rare in-state, nonconference game in coach Roy Williams’ hometown.
“We had a tremendous height advantage inside, and we wanted to make sure that was an important factor in the game,” Williams said.
J.P. Primm scored 23 points to lead Asheville (0-2) in front of a sellout crowd of 3,200.
The Tar Heels took a 48-39 lead into halftime, then opened the second half with a 13-3 run that put the game out of reach.
“Probably the roughest part was the sleep,” Zeller said of the lengthy road trip. “Like last night, you didn’t want to go to sleep because you were used to staying up later. But I think everybody did a great job.”
UNC arrived in Asheville at 5 a.m. Saturday morning after playing in San Diego and the Tar Heels got off to a sloppy start.
The second time North Carolina tried getting the ball inside to Zeller, UNC Asheville’s Quinard Jackson poked it away and started a fast break opportunity that resulted in the Bulldogs’ first points.
That was the first of nine first-half turnovers by the Heels, who made up for their sloppiness by outrebounding Asheville 41-27 and shooting well.
“We came out knowing what we had to do,” said UNC Asheville’s Jaron Lane, who scored a career-high 21 points. “We knew we were going to get our runs, and they were going to get their runs. We had to pull together through that and continue to play hard. That was the main thing: Play hard, play smart and play together.”
Zeller was 11-of-13 from the free throw line and added nine rebounds. John Henson had 20 points and 12 rebounds and Harrison Barnes finished with 17 points.
The home team’s highlights began when Grammy-winning musician Bruce Hornsby, the father of UNC Asheville freshman Keith Hornsby, played the national anthem on piano before the game.
A pullup by Chris Stephenson gave the Bulldogs a 14-9 advantage less than seven minutes in, but UNC scored the next nine points to take the lead for good then got a pair of thundering dunks by Barnes to squelch potential rallies by the Bulldogs, who won the Big South Conference last year and advanced to the NCAA tournament.