ACC Basketball: UNC 102, Tennessee State 69
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL — For one night, Reggie Bullock stopped thinking so much about his shot and just let the ball fly. Roy Williams and top-ranked North Carolina couldn’t have been happier with the results.
The sophomore reserve scored a career-high 23 points and Kendall Marshall had 15 assists to help the Tar Heels beat Tennessee State 102-69 on Tuesday night, keeping them unbeaten before heading west for their second cross-country trip of the month.
John Henson added 16 points, 10 rebounds and a career-best six assists for the Tar Heels (4-0), who led 55-42 at halftime and then used a 14-0 spurt early in the second half to blow the game open. North Carolina shot 62 percent and cracked the 100-point mark for the second time in three days, while its 32 assists on 41 baskets were the most in nine seasons under its Hall of Fame coach.
“Everything looks better when the ball goes in the basket,” Williams said.
Harrison Barnes also scored 16 for UNC, which had a dozen players score and four reach double figures. Yet Bullock and Marshall stood out most against the Tigers (2-3).
Bullock shot 6 of 7 on 3-pointers — the six 3s were also a career high — and came out of the game with students chanting his name and the Tar Heels up 92-56 at the 4:39 mark. The 6-foot-7 guard is coming off a rough rookie season in which he averaged about six points, shot just 30 percent from 3-point range and played through knee pain much of the year before missing the final nine games with a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee.
He’s hit nine of 15 3s in the past two games, which could open the floor for Henson, Barnes or Tyler Zeller inside.
“It’s a big relief because I’ve been thinking about my shot so much,” Bullock said. “I just need to make shots, that’s what I’m here for. I just came out tonight and just did not think about it anymore. I’m just catching and shooting from now on.”
Marshall left the game seconds after Bullock, ending the night three assists shy of tying the school record set by Raymond Felton in 2003. And he knew exactly where he was on the stat sheet, too, thanks to Henson pointing out at halftime that he already had 10 assists.
“Once I saw Reggie getting hot, I went to Harrison and said, ‘If I pass it to you, I don’t want to see no pump fakes — just shoot the ball,’” Marshall said.
When he left the game with 4:18 left, Marshall told Williams with a smile that he only needed three more assists to tie the record. It was Marshall’s third game with at least 15 assists in his 24 career starts. No other UNC player has more than one in a career.
Kellen Thornton scored 15 points to lead the Tigers, while Kenny Moore added 14. Tennessee State hung around in the first half by hitting seven 3-pointers and shooting 45 percent. But the Tar Heels held the Tigers to 11-for-33 shooting (33 percent) after halftime as they pulled away and finished with a 43-29 rebounding advantage.
“It’s magnified against them when you miss shots,” Tennessee State coach John Cooper said. “They’re able to really rebound the basketball. It’s one-and-done and then they get out in transition and that puts even more pressure on you.”
North Carolina beat Mississippi Valley State 101-75 in its home opener Sunday, though the Tar Heels struggled with their outside and free-throw shooting. North Carolina shot 5 of 19 from behind the arc and spent most of the game shooting below 50 percent from the foul line before finishing 16 for 31.
Outside shooting wasn’t a problem this time, with Bullock leading the team’s 11-for-18 performance from behind the arc.
North Carolina finished 9 for 16 from the line.
The game was part of the Las Vegas Invitational. After opening the season against Michigan State in the Carrier Classic in San Diego, the Tar Heels will travel west again to face South Carolina in the semifinal round on Friday.
Tennessee State’s players had an emotional moment before the game when the mother of redshirt freshman forward M.J. Rhett returned from serving in Iraq and surprised her son in the locker room. Stephanie Rhett is an Army National Guard sergeant who had been in Iraq since September and sat two rows behind the Tennessee State bench.
Video of the reunion was played on the Smith Center boards at halftime, drawing a standing ovation from the home crowd. She said she’ll have to return to Iraq in two weeks.
“I didn’t have no idea at all,” M.J. Rhett said. “I just saw her face and I was in shock.”
The Associated Press