Assists maven Kendall Marshall loves to share

ESPNU — In case you feel cheated by a lackluster winter, North Carolina had you covered last night in Winston-Salem. The Tar Heels shot a frigid 31 percent from the field in a 68-53 victory over the Demon Deacons, which shot an even lousier 30 percent.

In its past three road games — versus Wake, Virginia Tech and Florida State — Carolina has shot poorly in five of the six halves. Beginning with the second half against the Deacons and counting backward, here are the gruesome percentages: 28, 34, 52, 41, 33 and 41.

Apart from the strong 52 percent the Heels notched against the Hokies to pull away in that game, even the team’s top scorers have struggled outside the Chapel Hill border. The club’s 2-1 record during those contests includes two victories over weak opponents — Wake is now 2-6 against ACC foes, while Tech is 1-5 — and a humiliating blowout loss versus FSU.

A genuine national contender shouldn’t sustain droughts over such a compressed period of time, and Carolina’s title hopes will prove unrealistic unless the Heels bring their offense with them to hostile or neutral court environments.

On the other hand, Carolina played superlative defense against the Deacons. Yes, Wake is a bad team, but the Heels’ effort on that end of the court deserves praise. UNC shut down the interior yet also smothered three-point shooters, limiting the Deacs to just 2-for-18 from deep.

Tyler Zeller continues to shine and has been Carolina’s most complete player. The senior big man missed a few chip shots (like everyone else) but finished with 18 points (5-for-13 field goals) and 18 rebounds. He’s hitting the glass with such tenacity that John Henson’s rebounding numbers have taken a slight hit recently.

Henson also enjoyed a good overall game, however, finishing with 14 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and two steals.

Carolina’s issues mostly occurred on the perimeter. Kendall Marshall actually led the team as a jump shooter, knocking in 2-for-5 on threes en route to 14 points and six assists. But Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston combined to hit only 6-for-26 from the field. These guys are the Heels’ shooters; a collective performance like that in the NCAA Tournament likely will result in a teary Roy Williams press conference.

This weekend’s game could be a trap. Carolina travels to Maryland, where it has performed poorly in recent seasons, with the Duke game looming just a few days later. The Terrapins are transitioning with a relatively weak lineup and first-year coach Mark Turgeon (a Williams protégé from his time at Kansas), but they’ll certainly put up more fight than Wake.

Click here to view the UNC/Deacs box score.