Fifth-ranked North Carolina beats Elon 100-62By AARON BEARD, AP Basketball Writer Thursday, Dec 29, 2011
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)—North Carolina headed into Christmas with one of its best performances of the season. The fifth-ranked Tar Heels didn’t want to squander that progress by coming out of the holiday looking flat and unfocused.
Instead, they put together a dominating first-half run to blow out Elon early and extend their home winning streak.
Tyler Zeller had 19 points and 13 rebounds to help the Tar Heels beat the Phoenix 100-62 on Thursday night, tying a Smith Center record with their 25th straight win in the arena. It was North Carolina’s first game after an eight-day layoff following a 19-point win against Texas.
“It’s been a long break,” point guard Kendall Marshall said. “We didn’t want to take a step back. Coach (Roy Williams) always tells us that you’re either going to progress or regress. You’re not going to stay in the same place.”
The Tar Heels (12-2) had coasted through several matchups in the current nine-game homestand, frequently looking disinterested in stretches against overmatched opponents in lopsided games. But the Tar Heels looked focused against the Longhorns in their last significant test before opening Atlantic Coast Conference play against Boston College next week, then blew Thursday’s game open with a dominating 23-0 run midway through the first half in their return to the court.
Williams gave his players five days off for Christmas. The team returned to practice Tuesday night, starting a stretch of eight practices and three games before classes resume.
“So that means we’re a basketball team right now,” Williams said of the team’s mentality during the semester break. “Let’s focus on basketball.”
His players heeded the message.
Leading 18-14, the Tar Heels ran off 23 straight points—their biggest run since scoring 25 in a row against North Carolina State here almost four years ago. John Henson had two of his six first-half dunks in that run, while Marshall knocked down two 3-pointers during the spurt that gave North Carolina a 41-14 lead with 3:26 left in the half.
Elon (7-5) missed 14 straight shots during that 8-minute drought, sending North Carolina to its largest halftime lead (53-19) of the season. The Phoenix missed 31 of 39 shots in the opening half (21 percent), including 13 of 15 3-point tries that might have helped them hang around a bit longer.
“We wish that we would have answered the bell a little bit better,” Elon coach Matt Matheny said. “We wish that when they were playing well that we would have been able to bounce back, fight back, not get knocked so far back on our heels in the first half. The game got away from us in the first half because of the way they played.”
The rest of the game allowed the Tar Heels to pump up their stats and throw down a few dunks to thrill the crowd. Zeller had a career high with nine offensive boards and matched his career best for total boards. Barnes had battled a stomach bug in recent days, but had 18 points and finished with a career-high five assists.
Henson had 16 points and 11 rebounds—all but two points came in the first half—as the Tar Heels shot 47 percent and finished with a 64-35 rebounding advantage. Marshall finished with eight points and eight assists with one turnover.
North Carolina led by 50 points in the second half and scored 100 points for the third time this season. Twelve players scored for UNC while only four Tar Heels played even 20 minutes.
“We just executed what Coach wanted,” said Dexter Strickland, who had 10 points. “Everybody knew their role and did their jobs.”
While the 25 straight wins ties the record for the nearly 26-year-old campus arena, UNC’s home winning streak is tied for third-longest in program history.
Sebastian Koch scored 17 points to lead for the Phoenix, who remained winless against ranked opponents since entering Division I competition a dozen years ago. Elon shot just 33 percent, including 7 for 28 from 3-point range.
Officials had to stop the game with 3:01 left when a Tar Heels cheerleader fell to the court while being held in the air by her partner during a timeout. She was helped to her feet and off the court with an apparent left-leg injury.