Heels still struggling with shots

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 20, 2011
North Carolina entered the season knowing its outside shooting would have to improve to help its veteran front line. The top-ranked Tar Heels haven't gotten the kind of start they wanted. John Henson had 18 points and 14 rebounds to help North Carolina beat Mississippi Valley State 101-75 on Sunday, though the Tar Heels struggled to make outside shorts or consistently knock down free throws. Harrison Barnes also had 18 points in UNC's home opener. North Carolina (3-0) never trailed, led by 14 at halftime then blew the game open in the final 10 minutes. But the Tar Heels finished 5 for 19 from 3-point range, with three of those makes coming in the final 3 minutes with the outcome long since determined. In addition, they spent most of the game shooting below 50 percent from the foul line before finishing at 16 for 31, though the Delta Devils (0-3) were in no position to take advantage. North Carolina coach Roy Williams said his team has good shooters and that they knock down more in practice. ''They make a lot of them when they start making them,'' Williams said, ''but I'd like for them to do it on game night.'' In three games this season, North Carolina is shooting 29 percent (11 for 38) from 3-point range and 63 percent from the foul line. ''Coach always tells us to keep shooting,'' said freshman P.J. Hairston, who hit two 3s. ''If it's a good shot, shoot it. If it's not a good shot, give it to the post and they'll kick it back out for a good shot. We just go along with that.'' As for the free throws, North Carolina missed 13 of its first 21 before improving in the final 13 minutes. Those struggles were again a surprise to Williams, who at one point this week made his players shoot 100 free throws each. The worst performer, he said, made 78 of 100 attempts. North Carolina still shot 46 percent despite all the missed 3s and took a 62-39 rebounding advantage, which led to 29 second-chance points. Six players finished in double figures, while none of the starters logged more than 25 minutes. One highlight was the continued offensive improvement of Henson, a 6-foot-10 junior who has long been the team's top rebounder and shot blocker. He knocked down several jumpers to show more range, which could be a critical weapon as defenses key on Barnes or Tyler Zeller inside. Zeller added 16 points, while Dexter Strickland had 13 points, six rebounds and six assists. Brent Arrington scored 33 points on 12-for-18 shooting with six 3-pointers to lead Mississippi Valley State, which is spending the first two months of the season on the road. The Delta Devils opened at Notre Dame then traveled to DePaul. They also have trips to No. 7 Florida and No. 14 Wisconsin before the end of December. They hung around for about a half but never threatened to pull an upset. Outside of Arrington, the team shot 29 percent and went 2 for 19 from behind the arc. The teams were tied 6 1/2 minutes in and the Tar Heels didn't push to a double-digit lead until the final 5 minutes of the first half. They led 41-27 at halftime, then pushed the lead to 82-52 with about 7 minutes left. ''We've got to stop making silly plays that gives the other team a run,'' Delta Devils coach Sean Woods said. ''If we just stay solid and don't take bad shots at times, we can sustain it and stay in the ballgame. You just can't give a team like this 8-0 runs and 6-0 runs. They're too good.'' The Tar Heels are having their own unusual start to the season. They opened Nov. 11 against Michigan State in the Carrier Classic in San Diego, then flew home late that night and played at UNC Asheville two days later. They had the week off leading up to this one, which is part of the Las Vegas Invitational. They'll face Tennessee State here Tuesday before traveling west again to face South Carolina in the semifinal round on Friday. ''We might as well just stay over there, man,'' Barnes said with a laugh. ''It'll make our lives so much easier.''
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