ACC Basketball: UNC 89, N.C. State 80: Zeller returns in UNC win
By Bret Strelow
CHAPEL HILL ó The return of freshman Tyler Zeller helped North Carolina take a step toward becoming a more complete team.
What’s missing? Ask coach Roy Williams, and he won’t mince words when saying it’s a disruptive press.
Tyler Hansbrough had 27 points and Danny Green added 19 as the third-ranked Tar Heels won 89-80 over rival N.C. State on Wednesday night at the Smith Center. Javier Gonzalez scored 16 of his 18 points in the fist half to lead the Wolfpack, which shot 64 percent after the break and 54 percent for the game.
Williams used an obscenity during his postgame media session while responding to questions about his decision to press so infrequently and why UNC struggles to do so effectively.
“I like the progress of our team better than my descriptive phrases,” Williams said. “It’s the ACC; it’s not easy.
“Regardless of what people think, North Carolina can’t make somebody turn it over 50 times in the ACC. Regardless of what you think, North Carolina can’t shut out somebody in the ACC.”
Competing against ACC foes was new to Zeller, who broke his left wrist against Kentucky in UNC’s second game.
The Tar Heels, who are without an injured Marcus Ginyard and a suspended Will Graves for the rest of the season, will benefit from the added depth Zeller provides. He played for the first time in three months and scored two points in eight minutes. He also committed four fouls.
“Offense I’m fine because I’ve been able to shoot, been able to do stuff,” Zeller said. “It was more on the defensive end, reacting to people’s drives, going around people.”
Zeller made a turnaround jumper a minute after entering the game for the first time, but he had trouble staying between Ben McCauley and the basket without fouling.
Zeller started the first two games of his career in place of an injured Hansbrough, who is a senior. Hansbrough’s impending departure played a role in Zeller’s decision to come back rather than redshirt.
“I just felt like it was the best thing for me to help me prepare for next year, to get ready,” Zeller said. “In these games I can learn a lot. I can tell you I’ve already learned a lot from tonight’s game.”
With Hansbrough still in the mix, the Tar Heels (24-2, 10-2 ACC) are a national championship contender. He became UNC’s career leader in field goals made, moving in front of Phil Ford, and passed Pete Maravich for second place in NCAA history for career free throws made.
The Wolfpack (14-10, 4-7) opened the second half with a basket to pull within 39-38, and North Carolina answered with a 14-0 run.
A 3-pointer from Dennis Horner cut N.C. State’s deficit to six midway through the second half, and UNC’s Wayne Ellington scored the final nine points of a 14-2 run that gave the Tar Heels a 77-59 lead.
“It’s a team of guys that understand the importance of making a run those first five minutes,” N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe said. “They’ve done it so often, they know and they impose their will on other people. … Once they get you down, now they’re going to execute you.”
Gonzalez hit only three 3-pointers in 12 tries during N.C. State’s first 10 league games, but he went 4-for-4 from long range and 6-for-6 overall from the field in the first half Wednesday.
UNC point guard Ty Lawson, following Williams’ instructions, often left Gonzalez to double-team a Wolfpack player in the post.
“When they kicked it back out, he had an open shot,” Lawson said. “Today, I guess, he decided to get hot. Second half, I decided I wasn’t going to go double no more.”
Williams handled his frustration over Gonzalez’s shooting better than inquiries about UNC’s press.
He admitted to having a bad temper on the golf course, and his players have seen that side of him in the Smith Center.
“I definitely hear it more than you guys,” Hansbrough told a group of reporters. “Usually once every other ballgame he drops it in the huddle, and we know he means business when he says that.
“I think he may beat himself up over that because he usually counts how many cuss words he says in the huddle or in practice.”