If Harrison Barnes’s performance against N.C. State was a breakout, John Henson’s was a beat-down.
The 6-foot-10 power forward fell three blocks shy of a triple-double in North Carolina’s 84-64 win against N.C. State on Saturday, and his 16 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks were no accident.
“We were in practice and coach was like, ‘You know, they were on the radio station calling you soft and saying that their aggressiveness was going to take you out of your game,’” Henson said.
“Me and (Tyler Zeller) kind of took that to heart a little bit so I was a little more serious before this game.”
Henson’s determination spread to his teammates, including Barnes, who had 25 points.
North Carolina (15-5, 5-1 ACC) led from the opening basket and continued to expand that lead throughout the game until it reached its peak at 26 points with just less than four minutes left in the game.
“Am I (embarrassed)? Yeah, I mean, you don’t come out and play like that, you’ve got to play better than that,” N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe said. “This is a big game. You’ve got to come out to battle and beat people and, you know, they beat us and hit us and jumped into us.”
The win puts UNC in second place in the ACC behind Duke. Perhaps more importantly, it was the Tar Heels’ first conference win in convincing fashion.
And it started down low.
UNC out-rebounded the Wolfpack 53-39 and UNC turned 20 offensive rebounds into 18 points.
Henson recorded a fifth of those offensive boards while his seven blocks tied a career high.
“John’s a great threat around the basket, I mean he really is,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “He’s long, and he can block shots. You know, I’ve had better defensive players, but I don’t know that I’ve ever had a guy that’s a better shot-blocker around the basket than John.”
Zeller added 14 points and five rebounds to UNC’s frontcourt production, but the Wolfpack had the most difficulty trying to overcome Henson’s length, which Henson said isn’t the right way to attack him. But he’s not willing to give the secret away.
“There’s a couple secrets to being lengthy that I’m not going to tell anyone,” Henson said. “Sometimes I think guys don’t really realize how long I am and they try to go over me or something like that, and that’s not the way to beat me. Fortunately, teams haven’t figured it out yet.”
The Tar Heels shot 47 percent for the game and held N.C. State to 36 percent. Justin Knox was the fourth Tar Heel to score double digits with 10 points.
And if it weren’t for an 8-for-11, 18-point second half from N.C. State guard Lorenzo Brown, the statistical chasms between the teams would have been wider.
Big performances from Barnes and Henson might end up being in high demand from UNC in the next few weeks as the Tar Heels will take on Boston College, Florida State and Duke, three of the conferences’ top teams.
Zeller believes UNC’s big win is exactly what it needed in preparation for the tough upcoming stretch of games.
“With three games in six or seven days, it’s one of those things that I hope is going to help us Tuesday where we’re not as exhausted, because we won’t have to put as much energy into coming back from 14, 16 down,” Zeller said.
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