Tyler Zeller dominated the court and the lane in particular with a game-high 31 points and 10 rebounds as No. 5 North Carolina used a 13-2 run in the final 3 minutes and 50 seconds of the first half to defeat Appalachian State 97-82.
"It was kind of funny, I heard their coach one time, I ran down and got a layup and he just looked at him and goes, 'Told you he was going to do that,'" Zeller said. "It's something they all know we're trying to do."
Kendall Marshall, who ignites those breaks, passed seven of his 13 assists before halftime to spark a 10-0 first-half edge in fast-break points, distancing the Tar Heels from the Mountaineers early.
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"They just run; they just run, and trust Kendall is going to find them," Appalachian State coach and former UNC player Jason Capel said. "He trusts them to catch the ball, and they do. It's a beautiful marriage of talent and having the guys to share things around and keep that talent as a cohesive unit. He [Marshall] does a heck of a job."
The Mountaineers (4-6) did not let Capel's homecoming end in vain. With Carolina in control with a 75-46 advantage and 11:34 remaining, Appalachian State outscored the Tar Heels 36-22 the rest of the game.
Friday ended final exams at Carolina (9-2). The Tar Heels practiced twice during this past week, a point Coach Roy Williams pointed to as the reason for UNC's inconsistencies against Appalachian State.
In the second half, Carolina turned the ball over five times, and saw ASU shoot 5-of-8 from 3-point range in the second half.
"In the end," Williams said, "it's a 'W,' and it's Christmas time. I'm not going to be Scrooge by any means. We were really good for about the last four minutes of the first half and the first four or five minutes of the second half. And then we went brain dead there for a while. But you have to congratulate Jason and his club for continuing to play and doing a nice job defensively and making some shots."
Zeller had 20 points at the half. He continued to attack in the second half, while John Henson, P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock combined for 25 points in the second half.
"Z does a great job running," Marshall said. "He kind of reminds me of a deer almost when he gets out and runs. When he gets in the post, he does such a great job of getting post depth and showing me his whole body, I have no choice but to give him the ball."
Henson, who scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds, showed excellent restraint after absorbing a hard foul from Nathan Healy with 6:41 left in the game. Henson proceeded to score six of Carolina's next eight points in a sequence that the Tar Heels and the Mountaineers traded baskets.
Henson broke out his baseline jump shot that is becoming such a valuable weapon for Carolina.
"It fired me up," Henson said. "I wasn't expecting [the hard foul], and the best way to get someone back is score on them. That is what I tried to do."
Marshall said the Tar Heels will continue to rely on their philosophy of getting the ball into the post first.
"We're never going to get away from our game plan," Marshall said. "And our plan is to work from the inside out. If it's working inside, we're going to keep on doing it. We didn't shoot as many threes today, and the ones we did shoot didn't go in, but our bigs stepped up for us and we found a way to win."
Carolina will play Nicholls on Monday at 7 p.m. in the Tar Heels' next game. ESPN2 will broadcast the game.
"We have to be crisper," Zeller said. "There were times where we played very, very well, and times where we played very poorly. It's something we have to get in a rhythm and keep that up for 40 minutes."