CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Reserve wing Reggie Bullock has scored bigger for North Carolina this season. Maybe even better.
But never have his points been quite so key.
With the No. 4/6 Tar Heels struggling to gain their footing against fast, confident Long Beach State, Bullock’s 11 second-half points – all in a seven-minute span during which UNC turned a 6-point deficit into a 3-point lead – were a game-changer.
“He was needed a heck of a lot more than some of his other games,’’ coach Roy Williams said after his team survived 84-78 at the Smith Center on Saturday night. “I like his confidence.”
UNC forward John Henson scored a season-high 24 points to go along with 10 rebounds and 4 blocks; point guard Kendall Marshall tied his career high with 16 assists and Harrison Barnes added 20 points.
But after a first half during which UNC got outrebounded, saw three of its guards combine to shoot 0-for-9 and watched 49ers point guard Casper Ware pour in 21 of his game-high 29 points, the Tar Heels needed Bullock’s confidence boost.
(As well as his points.)
“It was huge for us,” Barnes said. “…We needed him to come off the bench and give us that big lift.”
The Tar Heels trailed 51-45 when Bullock entered the game. His first 3 of the second half jump-started a rally, and his second, several minutes later, gave the Tar Heels a 57-55 lead. By the time he went back to the bench with 10:50 left, he had scored 8 consecutive points for the Tar Heels, who were leading 62-59. And the crowd was yelling “Reg-gie! Bul-lock!”
The flurry was key for the sophomore not just because it demonstrated his continued trust in the left knee that cut short his freshman season (it required surgery after he suffered a torn lateral meniscus in February), but because it shows the budding consistency Williams has been hoping for.
It marked the second consecutive game Bullock has scored in double figures (he also had 15 Tuesday against Evansville), and the fourth time in 10 games this season that he’s scored double digits off the bench.
“Reggie Bullock was huge,’’ Williams said. “I was very discouraged with some of the things going on out there. Dexter [Strickland] was 1-or-4; Kendall was 1-for-6, P.J. [Hairston] was 0-for-3. And thank goodness Reggie came in and decided he was going to make some shots from the perimeter.”
Bullock said he was inspired a bit by Ware, who made half of his 24 shots and looked early on as if he was never going to miss. “He’s one of the fastest players I’ve ever gone against,’’ Bullock said of the senior, whom he guarded on a few possessions. “He’s like a little mouse that’s running around that you’re trying to chase in the house.”
Or, in the case of Saturday, as far out of scoring range as possible.
Bullock, who has been trying to improve his defense in order to become a better all-around player, credited his second-half scoring burst to his teammates, “who got me the ball in the right places,” he said.
He wasn’t sure if it was his best game of the season, but he wants to keep improving on it. “And it helped us get the win,’’ he said. “That’s what’s most important.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.