Texas 78, UNC 76

Longhorns vs Tar Heels boxscore

Well that was frustrating. After slow start, UNC seemed to have things under control. They'd come back to take a small lead t halftime, and then extended that lead to seven as late as 5:46 to play. They had most of the Texas starters in foul trouble and their defense on their Heels, pressing the tempo with every made Texas shot, leaving them flat-footed as they drove to the hoop time after time. In fact, the only flaw was those made shots, most of which came at the hands of Jordan Hamilton, who would finish with 24 points.

But then in the closing minutes things began to slip away. Carolina reverted to their early play, giving up four offensive rebounds and turning it over twice down the stretch. Down one at the three minute mark, UNC went to Zeller on four consecutive plays; by the third Texas had things figured out and kept him from the hoop the final two times, while scoring easy baskets on the other end. A strong Harrison Barnes three tied it up with seventeen seconds left, but UNC again could not get a defensive stop, nor score at the buzzer, and leaves Greensboro with a fourth straight loss in the series with Texas.

The most maddening aspect of the game was the lapses in rebounding. The Longhorns would grab fifteen offensive boards, and break the Heels' backs with second-chance points. Texas was the smaller team, yet they often capitalized on the complete inaction of the Carolina big men; Alexis Wangmene in particular out muscled the Heels both on the boards and on the defensive end, where he hampered both Zeller and Henson. Luckily, foul trouble kept him on the bench for large stretches and he was often the lone bright spot on the interior defense. Zeller would finish with 14 points and Henson 10, but they would have a comparatively low 15 rebounds between them.

The true star on the offensive end was Dexter Strickland, who followed up a season-high 13 point performance against Long Beach State with an 18 point game this afternoon. And both cases he did it mostly off the fast break, using his speed to take it to the Texas defense over and over again. In one particular oft-replayed drive, he realized the defender had beaten him to the spot to draw the charge, adjust to leap around him, and still got the shot to the basket, where it was goaltended by a second defender. Strickland hasn't been taking threes this year – he made his only attempt tonight, just his second this season in seven tries – but he's cut way back on his turnovers in the last four games and is playing very strong.

There wasn't much perimeter shooting at all from Carolina tonight. In part, that was because the Longhorns' foul trouble made interior play a much smarter move, but even early on UNC struggled to find its shot. They'd finish 3-11 from beyond the arc, with Justin Watts finally breaking the drought and then Strickland and Harrison Barnes scoring late. Leslie McDonald was a non-factor in ten minutes of play.

Speaking of playing time, Kendall Marshall made the most of his fifteen minutes on the court, driving to the hoop amidst a Texas defense more preoccupied with the big men. He'd finish with only seven points, but all came during the Heels' comeback at the end of the first half, when little else was working. It was his best performance I've seen to date, and perhaps we'll see a little more of him through December.

As for Harrison Barnes, he would finish in double digits for the second straight game with 16 points, off 5 of 10 shooting from the field. He's still tentative, but coming along. On defense though, he's constantly being outshone by similarly sized players on the opposing team. First Mike Davis and Jereme Richmond score 20 and 12, respectively, for Illinois, then Darius Miller gets 13 for Kentucky. He's a weak spot on that end of the floor, and there's going to be even more pressure for him to step it up come conference play.

Overall the team played well, but couldn't pull away from Texas, and then floundered down the stretch. This leaves UNC with only one name-team scalp in the nonconference season, and a touch row to hoe in the ACC. This one will sting, with no chance to prove them selves until January. On the bright side, it keeps the team out of the rankings and away from the spotlight, which can only do them good at this point, really. 

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