Although coach Roy Williams said he would have preferred Henson didn’t dunk the last shot out of respect for Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, his former assistant at Kansas, he was elated with the win.
Henson earned his 10th double-double of the season and finished the game with 17 points, 12 boards and one block.
The majority of that success, though, came in the second half.
With only five points and six rebounds to his name at halftime, Henson took a backseat to fellow big Tyler Zeller in the first 20 minutes of regulation.
While Zeller continued to be a force of consistency for UNC with 14 first-half points, Henson struggled with getting his jump shots blocked and was bullied by Len in the frontcourt.
A few words of inspiration from UNC assistant coach Jerod Haase in the locker room later, Henson turned it on when the Tar Heels needed him the most.
“It’s like he flipped a switch,” point guard Kendall Marshall said. “They were beating us up on the boards, beating us up on size and we weren’t finishing well. Him and Z, to come through the way they did, Z early on and John later on, that’s big for our team.”
When Zeller was called for his fourth foul, Williams let the senior play for just eight minutes in the second half. With Zeller on the bench, Henson couldn’t help but feel the pressure to contribute.
“Big Z was killing earlier,” Henson said. “He picked up a foul that the ref called, and it was rough for us. He’s our rock down there. So I felt like I had to pick it up for him a little bit.”
Henson posted 12 points, six rebounds, one block and one assist all in his last 19 minutes.
And when Zeller filed back onto the court for the game’s final possessions, UNC’s bigs found a way to play consistently together.
“We’ve played together long enough that sometimes I’ll be guarding the post and I’ll just know that John’s just sitting there, so I’ll let him go block it,” Zeller said. “He makes my job easier.”
As for Henson’s finishing slam, Zeller can’t say he would have made the same last-second decision.
“That’s a tough question,” Zeller said. “In the heat of the moment — maybe.”
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