Henson shows impressive vision in big win

Henson had a career five assists.

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UNC forward John Henson dunks the ball during the first half of the game. Henson had 16 points in the Carolina win over Tennessee State.

Three years and about 40 pounds ago, John Henson destroyed defenses all by himself.

Guard him loose, and he could hit the 3-pointer. Guard him tight, and he’d get to the rim or find someone else. And forget about stopping him in the paint with that length.

But that was high school, against high school talent.

What he did in No. 1 North Carolina’s 102-69 win Tuesday night against Tennessee State – 16 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four blocks – might be more impressive.

“When I saw John in high school I thought, ‘He’s going to be a really good passer,’” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “He has a feel for it. He has a knack for it (and) he has a flair for it.

“If he had made a dadgum bounce pass to (Tyler Zeller) the last time, he’d have seven instead of six assists.”

Even so, six assists put Henson just four away from the third triple-double in UNC history.

He had his usual game – snatching rebounds and scoring a handful of points in the paint – and of course, he led the UNC swat team once again with four blocks.

“He does so many great things,” UNC point guard Kendall Marshall said. “He’s going to alter way more shots than he blocks. He’s going to rebound. He’s going to run the floor. He’s going to bring that energy. So everything that he does isn’t going to show up in the stat book.”

But his six assists were a career high, and a number of those assists looked like they came out of the hand of a point guard, not a 6-foot-11 forward with go-go-gadget arms.

About halfway through the first half, Henson received the ball on the right wing with more than 10 feet between him and any defender, and with his improved jump shot, he could have easily shot it.

But Henson took one dribble as two defenders hastened to his spot. Instead of elevating for the shot, Henson elevated but dipped the ball over their heads to Zeller for an easy two points.

For Henson to make that play adds another layer of difficulty when guarding him. Not only do opponents now have to respect his improved jumper and turnaround, but Henson showed Tuesday night he also has the ability to hurt a defense trying to play catch-up on defense.

His assist to Zeller, like many of his passes, was a play Marshall might do on a more consistent basis. But that’s not the reason Marshall said he wasn’t impressed with Henson’s dimes.

“I’m not (impressed), because I see him make those passes a lot,” Marshall said. “John has great vision for a big man.”

Coming from Marshall, that’s a true compliment.

Marshall recorded 15 assists for the third time in his career on Tuesday. No other Tar Heel has recorded 15 or more assists more than once.

“Hitting the open man is something coach preaches all the time and it’s something that’s very easy to do,” Henson said. “You just have to do it, and I think I have a little gift for it as well.”

It’s tough to argue with him after Tuesday night.

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