CHAPEL HILL - Harrison Barnes proved at Miami that he could come up big in the final seconds of a game. Against N.C. State, the freshman showed that he could do some early scoring, too.
Barnes scored the game's first five points on the way to a career-high 25 points in North Carolina's 84-64 victory against the Wolfpack.
When he checked out of the game for good with 3:50 remaining - sporting a huge smile - the sellout crowd at the Smith Center gave him a standing ovation.
Article Continues Below
"It was fun to see Harrison have that smile on his face and do the things he did," UNC coach Roy Williams said.
While Barnes' scoring was what got the Tar Heels (15-5, 5-1 in the ACC) going at the start of the game, Carolina's best player in the game might have been John Henson.
The sophomore forward had 16 points and 16 rebounds to go with seven blocked shots, and he was a hugely disruptive force against the Wolfpack offense.
"I was motivated," Henson said. "Coach said they were talking on a radio show and they were calling me and (Tyler Zeller) and (Justin) Knox soft. I kind of took that to heart."
Despite not having the same personal motivation, Barnes was similarly aggressive early in the game, grabbing six first half rebounds and taking care of the basketball.
"For us in the first half, it was probably as intense as Harrison has been getting loose balls and rebounds," Williams said. "I thought he was really active."
Once again, the Tar Heels won without it being pretty, but this time they at least had something of a margin to work with.
Playing State (12-9, 2-5), which has now lost nine games in a row in this rivarly, seemed to be just the thing to keep the Tar Heels from having to gut out another late-game squeaker.
Carolina's previous biggest victory in ACC play was a 10-point home win against Clemson.
The Heels also matched their conference win total from a season ago, and there are still 10 games remaining on the schedule.
"I vividly remember that," Henson said of last year's league record. "We didn't have five (wins) 'til a long time from now. We just want to keep it going."
The Tar Heels scored six points in the first 91 seconds of the second half to push their double-figure halftime advantage to 19 points.
But the Wolfpack hung around for quite a while, getting within 11 points before Carolina pulled away again in the final minutes.
While the second-half sloppiness was enough to prevent the Tar Heels from getting a big head about this 20-point win, they were comfortably ahead the entire game. The last time they didn't have a double-figure lead was when it was 15-6.
Barnes came out firing, scoring seven of the Tar Heels' first nine points during a 13-2 run to open the game.
He saved his scoring for late in the game in a dramatic win against Miami, in which he tied the game with a jumper before hitting a game-winning three with 6.6 seconds to go.
But against the Wolfpack, Barnes scored nine points in the opening three minutes and 11 of UNC's first 19 points.
"It was a little bit of a breakthrough," Barnes said. "I would say I lost myself in the game."
Meanwhile, Henson had seven points and 11 rebounds by halftime, helping Carolina to a 34-18 advantage on the glass (on the way to a season-high 53 boards).
While the Tar Heels were starting hot, State was not.
The Pack had just two field goals in the first 11 minutes, and at the under-four-minute timeout, Barnes was 5 for 7 from the field while State was 5 for 27.
At halftime, Carolina had held the Wolfpack to 23.3 percent shooting and just seven field goals.
The result was a 34-21 halftime lead - despite UNC's own 37.8-percent shooting clip - that probably should have been even larger.
But given the harrowing finishes in Carolina's first four ACC wins, they were glad just to be able to win without overcoming a deficit and sweating out the final minutes.
"I think it gives us a little bit of confidence in that we've never had a good lead and sustained it," Barnes said. "I think everyone played a lot looser."