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The Daily Tar Heel

Tar Heels sink Spartans at Carrier Classic

North Carolina's John Henson (31) and his teammates go through a shoot around on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson in Coronado, California, Thursday November 10, 2011. UNC practiced for the game with Michigan State on the carrier during the Carrier Classic on Veterans Day. (Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)

CORONADO, Calif. — There was a game and a tribute Friday night on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson. Shortly after halftime, No. 1 North Carolina had both figured out.

The tribute was never difficult to grasp. Although 8,111 spectators huddled around a basketball court on the middle of an aircraft carrier, the camouflage jerseys with “U.S.A.” on the backs reflected the spotlight off the athletes wearing them and back at members of the military.

And that was just the game. The experience was undeniably special. There were no banners above the court – there was just a sky filled with orange, sunset-drenched clouds.

There weren’t competing pep bands. Instead, a Navy band learned the fight songs from both schools. And once UNC (1-0) won the game 67-55, it played “Hark the Sound.”

The game was intended to honor armed forces on Veterans Day, and UNC coach Roy Williams called it a success.

“They kept saying, ‘Thank you. Thank you.’ And I’m thinking, ‘My gosh, I’m supposed to be thanking you and should.’”

It’s safe to say UNC understood the significance of the event outside of basketball, but the team didn’t put it all together on the court until junior forward John Henson emerged from halftime blazing.

“When someone hits two shots in a row … you definitely want to get them the ball again, and I think my team did that,” said Henson, who finished the game with 12 points, seven rebounds and a career-high nine blocks.

Henson started the second half with two field goals and a block, followed by a 3-pointer from Harrison Barnes to give the Tar Heels a 16-point lead.

The Tar Heels, despite that comfortable lead, were outrebounded 27-17 in the first half and allowed the Spartans to grab 14 offensive rebounds. Those second chances made MSU’s 10-for-36 first-half shooting performance much less devastating.

“They’re very good rebounders,” UNC forward Tyler Zeller said. “But we didn’t do a great job blocking out and getting the ball.”
UNC maintained a comfortable lead for much of the second half — perhaps too comfortable.

MSU went on a 10-0 run in five minutes to get within 10 points of UNC, and at that point the game was far from over. That is, until Barnes, who led North Carolina with 17 points, hit a 3-pointer in the corner with 5:24 remaining.

“That was a very big shot,” UNC point guard Kendall Marshall said. “They had a lot of momentum, and I think that shot pretty much put a dagger in it.”

MSU never got within 10 points of the Tar Heels in the second half. Although UNC had its sloppy moments, ones Williams said they will review in practice, the Tar Heels excelled at times.

The Tar Heels finished with more assists and fewer turnovers than Michigan State, and seemed to score more methodically, evidenced by MSU’s 24 second-chance points.

Dexter Strickland, who finished with 10 points, was the only other Tar Heel besides Henson and Barnes in double-digits.

The Carrier Classic was a spectacle, especially with President Barack Obama in attendance.

“We tried to just keep our distance, because we didn’t want the Secret Service to jump out at us and think we’re trying to attack him,” Barnes said.

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