DEAN SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Well, you have to say this much for North Carolina: The Tar Heels’ 2010-11 season won’t be exactly like last year. Facing the same Charleston club that demoralized them a year ago, the Heels earned some hard-fought redemption over the Cougars tonight in a 74-69 victory.
Sophomore big man John Henson was the hero. Maligned for his lack of offense — and especially his horrifying free throw shooting — Henson stepped up to get 19 points (8-for-11 field goals), seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks. He was the club’s most efficient player on both ends, hitting crucial baskets in a tight game during the closing minutes.
Another sophomore, guard Dexter Strickland, hit 3-for-5 from the field and played defense that Roy Williams called “fantastic.” Though Charleston star Andrew Goudelock scored 28 points, the Heels held the Cougars to 38 percent shooting for the game and just 30 percent on threes.
After a cold first half, UNC itself shot a strong 53 percent from the floor in the second half. Still, no one is going to call these Tar Heels good shooters, so defensive efforts such as the one tonight must become the norm. And guarding better opponents obviously will be more difficult.
Despite consecutive wins and this one that addressed a recent painful memory, Carolina fans still grumbled while exiting the stadium. The most contentious issue is the situation at point guard, where largely ineffective junior Larry Drew (27 minutes) continues to receive more court action than emerging fan favorite Kendall Marshall (13 minutes).
Just a freshman, Marshall’s play easily has outpaced Drew’s in terms of getting Carolina into its preferred transition offense. Williams himself has said as much. He anticipated the question after the game and said that he opted for Drew in the second half to have greater experience and defensive quickness on the court. That explanation holds in light of UNC’s win, but if Carolina loses with such a playing time disparity in place, the grumbling will become a cacophony.
The other major area of concern involves freshman Harrison Barnes. His preseason selection as an All-American looks more outlandish by the day; his 3-for-12 shooting night coupled with several egregious turnovers won’t quiet the increasingly boisterous critics.
UNC will make a quick turnaround to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Heels travel to Champaign to face Illinois on Tuesday night, a game in which they’ll be the clear underdog.
To see the UNC/Charleston box score, click here.