CHAPEL HILL – Before taking on Kent State, North Carolina's starting guards Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington had a little chat.
They weren't happy with how they performed in the top-ranked Tar Heels' last game, so they wanted to remind each other it was time to make amends.
Lawson and Ellington accomplished that mission with 17 points each to lead the Tar Heels past the Golden Flashes 90-61.
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"We both had to come out and give a better effort," Ellington said.
While UNC's bench was short-handed without Quentin Thomas and Alex Stepheson, Tyler Hansbrough led the Tar Heels with 25 points and was a perfect 11 for 11 at the free-throw line.
But for as well as North Carolina's big three played, it was obvious this team was ready for the end of this non-conference home stretch.
Once again, the Tar Heels built a first-half double-digit lead.
And once again, they fell into a lull, allowing the other team to hang around before turning it on again in the second half.
The Tar Heels opened up a 21-point lead with 12 minutes remaining on a pair of dunks by Hansbrough.
Kent State's legs gave out, shots stopped falling, and the Tar Heels had a 30-point lead with five minutes to go as UNC coach Roy Williams began steadily moving his starters to the bench.
But having that formula play out in every game during this stretch has made it tough for the Tar Heels to heed their coach's warnings that each of these teams was a quality opponent despite lacking big-name status or big-conference affiliation.
"They're tired of me saying, 'This is a really good team,'" Williams said. "I've been saying that three games in a row."
The players know they can ill afford lapses in play now that it's time to step into ACC play.
"Everybody in the locker room knows there's no reason for coach to say those things," Marcus Ginyard said. "The times we're not focused (in the ACC), we're going to look that much worse. We're going to have to step it up."
With Thomas missing his second straight game with an ankle injury, Lawson played 32 minutes and dished out seven assists.
Lawson and Ellington combined to shoot 15 of 22 from the field, including three 3-pointers for Lawson.
But it wasn't just from outside that the Tar Heels' point guard did his damage.
He repeatedly drove past Kent State defenders for easy layups, helping Carolina to shoot 52 percent in the game.
"I've been on him the last few days to shoot the outside shot because he is a good shooter," Williams said.
Stepheson missed the game to be with his father, who is ill, in California.
Lacking three bench players (including Bobby Frasor, who was lost to a season-ending knee injury) meant some new lineup combinations for the Tar Heels against Kent State, though they didn't want blame odd lineups for the times when things didn't go exactly according to plan.
"It isn't the same as we're used to," Ginyard said. "But that's no excuse for effort. That shouldn't change."
The Tar Heels used a 12-0 run midway through the first half – highlighted by a pair of Lawson 3-pointers – to open up a 16-point lead.
But then Kent State scored nine points in a row at the end of the first half, before a long buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Ellington put the Tar Heels up 44-32 going into the break.
That stretch left Williams frustrated that his team's effort to hold for the last shot of the half ended up with a KSU basket before Ellington's long ball.
"It didn't make me any happier," Williams said. "You don't give a team a dunk on the other end and rely on a 35-foot shot."