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Post players adjusting to absence of Davis

Freshman big man John Henson put forth a solid effort against N.C. State. DTH/Phong Dinh
Freshman big man John Henson put forth a solid effort against N.C. State. DTH/Phong Dinh

John Henson was settling into a study hall when he found out just how big his role was going to be in Saturday’s 74-61 victory against N.C. State.

He logged onto to find out what was new in the world of sports, and his jaw dropped when he saw his teammate’s name listed under college basketball’s top stories.

“It said ‘(Ed) Davis, out,’ and I was like, ‘Oooh,’” Henson said. “I was shocked, because he’s a huge part of this team.”

Davis’ broken left wrist, along with the previous injuries to Tyler Zeller (stress fracture) and Travis Wear (ankle), meant the UNC roster, once overstocked with forwards, was down to just three healthy big men.

It also gave the freshman an opportunity to start for the first time all season.

“I look over there, and I’ve got more 6-9, 6-10, seven-foot guys in suits,” coach Roy Williams said. “I’ve got all the dadgum coaching help I need as opposed to guys out on the floor.”

And when forward Deon Thompson picked up his second foul with 17:42 remaining in the first half against N.C. State, Williams’ options grew even more limited.

But Henson and fellow rookie David Wear proved capable enough to bang in the post against N.C. State’s Tracy Smith and Dennis Horner to keep UNC afloat in the first half.

“I’ve been practicing against Ed Davis, Deon Thompson, Tyler Zeller all year long, so when you get in the game, you’re really not going to go up with too many bigger guys than that,” Wear said.

Henson scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds in his debut in the starting lineup, while Wear added seven points and four rebounds off the bench.

The efforts of the two freshmen, coupled with Thompson’s contributions (12 points, seven rebounds), helped the Tar Heels outrebound the Wolfpack by a 44-32 margin.

Henson and Thompson also added three blocks apiece.

But that’s not to say UNC didn’t miss the help of its injured big men.

North Carolina and N.C. State scored an equal number of points in the paint at 36, and the 195-pound Henson had trouble muscling the 247-pound Smith for post positioning whenever he was isolated against him defensively.

Smith scored 20 points on 6-11 of his shots from the field, and he earned nine attempts at the free throw line by bullying his way to the basket.

“(Smith)’s a big boy,” Henson said. “Good thing the game plan was to double-team him so he didn’t abuse me too bad.”

Williams was split when assessing Henson’s play.

He emphasized there was plenty of good — including a highlight reel, two-handed putback dunk in the game’s opening minutes — but said Henson was still lost on the court for most of the game in terms of positioning.

Henson primarily saw playing time at small forward before being moved to power forward in recent weeks.

“He’s such a force inside because of his length,” Williams said. “He’s got to get a heck of a lot stronger and finish plays. You don’t like your power player to be 4-9 (from the field).”

Williams got a little creative with Henson at times to compensate for his lack of available post players. Forward Will Graves, who usually plays on the perimeter, joined Henson down low when Thompson and Wear needed a breather.

“The odds aren’t on our side right now with losing Ed and with the way the season’s gone, but all you can do is continue to fight,” Thompson said.

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