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Elon-North Carolina Preview

AP - Sports

North Carolina has slumbered at times during a lengthy homestand against mostly unheralded competition but showed what it could do with some motivation last time out.

A matchup with Elon on Thursday night wouldn't seem to provide that for the fifth-ranked Tar Heels, but a chance to match the longest win streak in Smith Center history just might.

North Carolina (11-2) has prevailed by an average of 27.8 points while winning the first five of its nine straight home games, but that substantial margin hasn't necessarily been indicative of good performances.

The Tar Heels had to rally from a five-point halftime deficit to down Long Beach State 84-78 on Dec. 10, and they gave up 50 points in the second half during a 97-82 victory against Appalachian State one week later.

It was their effort in a 99-49 win over Nicholls State on Dec. 19 that had coach Roy Williams fuming the most, as he nearly scheduled a four-hour early morning practice as punishment. North Carolina missed 15 of 19 attempts from 3-point range in that game and 20 of 41 shots from the free-throw line.

The Tar Heels woke up last Wednesday with an 82-63 win over Texas, a team that had beaten them in each of the last two seasons. Harrison Barnes had 26 points and 10 rebounds in that win after totaling 18 points in the previous two games.

"It is easier to get up for these big games, and I think that's kind of what we are capable of," Barnes said. "Obviously we need to get better, but we need to continue to do that for every game, we can't just show up for the big ones."

The opportunity for North Carolina's second 25-game home win streak in the 26-year history of the Smith Center might provide some incentive in this game. The Tar Heels recorded their only other such run March 4, 1992-Feb. 12, 1994, and they enter this game having won 54 in a row at home over non-conference opponents.

Those streaks don't appear to be in jeopardy with Elon (7-4) having failed to top 55 points in consecutive road defeats. The Phoenix shot a season-low 29.1 percent during a 62-54 loss at Dartmouth on Dec. 17 and 31.7 percent in an 81-55 drubbing against now-No. 25 San Diego State last Thursday.

Leading scorer Lucas Troutman (12.6 ppg) was held to six points in that game, while Austin Hamilton and Jack Isenbarger - the team's only other players averaging in double figures - had 10 points apiece.

North Carolina is facing Elon for the first time since Dec. 2, 1950. The Tar Heels have won 10 in a row over the Phoenix to take a 17-4 series lead.

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