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February 23, 2011

Barnes big in final minutes of UNC's win vs. State

RALEIGH - For all the tension that had built up in an intense second half of this rivalry game, Harrison Barnes seemed to have no problem releasing it with two successive screams.

The North Carolina freshman had a pair of follow dunks with four minutes to go and punctuated each with a yell and flex under the basket.

The putbacks - as well as a 3-pointer from Barnes with just under two minutes remaining - were the late spark the Tar Heels needed to pull away from rival N.C. State for a 75-63 win.

"That had a huge impact," Tyler Zeller said. "It was kind of a backbreaker."

Less than 30 seconds after Barnes' three, embattled N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe picked up a technical foul, and the wheels fell completely off for the Wolfpack, prompting fans to empty the building.

Among those that remained, a "Tar Heel" chant began. Straggling Wolfpack fans stuck around to shout remarks about Lowe being fired.

"It's always a good feeling seeing a crowd leave," said Barnes, who has caused his fair share of that phenomenon this season thanks to his propensity for late-game heroics.

The freshman was 0 for 6 in the first half before turning it around for a 6-for-11 showing in the second. In addition to the 3-pointer that all but sealed the game, he hit one for the opening bucket of the second half.

"I knew he was going to start making shots," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "I was just hoping it was going to be tonight."

By the time Barnes all but cleared the arena, you would have never known that this was an intense, emotional showdown befitting the rivalry for most of the second half.

When the game was tied at 50 midway through the second half, every possession felt like the final minutes.

Players got tangled.

Bodies hit the floor.

The officials were constantly trying to ease the tension.

"It was very physical," Barnes said. "They wanted to compete, and they weren't shy about letting us know that."

The Wolfpack (14-13, 4-9 in the ACC) definitely made things tough on the Tar Heels (21-6, 11-2), holding them to a 36.4 percent shooting clip in the first half.

Outside of Dexter Strickland's 4-for-5 shooting performance in the first half, Carolina was just 8 for 28. Strickland, who was 2-for-13 shooting for a combined 10 points in his last four games, ended up being one of four Tar Heels in double figures.

Eventually, the rest of the the Tar Heels came around, shooting 48.5 percent in the second half, their best shooting showing in their last 10 halves.

And while they only made 5 of 16 3-point attempts, State made 3 of 14, marking the third time this season in ACC play that Carolina has put in more threes than an opponent.

Two of them have come against the Wolfpack.

Carolina also dominated the glass, thanks in large part to 15 rebounds from John Henson, who also blocked six shots.

It was that combination of scrapping and finally hitting some shots that got UNC the win in yet another ugly game.

"We just did whatever the refs let us," said Zeller, who had 11 points and nine rebounds. "But we still played basketball."

Before the final minutes, when Carolina pulled away, the game was all about trash talk, menacing stares and grabbing jerseys. Real nitty-gritty rivalry stuff.

Even Williams' wife, Wanda, was involved in a dustup with a State fan behind the UNC bench.

And at the end of the day, the Tar Heels channeled that emotion into making plays when it counted.

"Coach really pumps us up," Strickland said. "He hates the school with a passion. He really wants to come out and punch them in the mouth."

Williams didn't get that wish right away, but in the end, Barnes' late-game one-two punch certainly sent the Wolfpack reeling.

"Actions speak louder than words," Strickland said. "Him having those plays were big for us."


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