College Basketball Nation: Appalachian State

Zeller paces UNC with 31 points

December, 17, 2011

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- In an attempt to try to prepare his squad for how quickly North Carolina’s big guys can get ahead of a fast break, Appalachian State coach Jason Capel had team managers start sprinting at half-court during practice last week. Then he told his players, beginning from the baseline, to try to catch them.

“But nothing can prepare you for a 7-footer running that fast,’’ the former Tar Heels forward said after his team lost 97-82 at the Smith Center. “It’s impossible to do.”

Using a bevy of hook shots, free throws – and yes, fast-break buckets – 7-foot UNC senior Tyler Zeller led the Tar Heels with 31 points (one shy of tying his career high).

Coach Roy Williams said the forward has had better all-around outings this year. But, according to Zeller, “it was just one of those games where everything seemed to be going in.”

Then again, it always helps to have a tall guy who can beat everyone to the bucket.

“Z does a great job running,’’ said point guard Kendall Marshall, who finished with 13 assists and only 2 turnovers. “He kind of reminds me of a deer almost when he gets out and runs.”

“[Then] when he gets in the post, he does such a great job of getting post depth and showing me his whole body, I have no choice by to give him the ball.”

Marshall got Zeller the ball early and often Saturday, as the forward scored 7 points en route to UNC’s early 13-2 lead.

He scored his 20th point, just before halftime, when Marshall threw up an almost-full-court shot/pass with time winding down that ended up ricocheting off the rim and into the hands of teammate Dexter Strickland. Strickland then found Zeller for the bucket, which gave the Tar Heels a 48-32 lead.

[+] EnlargeTyler Zeller
Rob Kinnan/US PresswireSuperior speed got Tyler Zeller and UNC past Appalachian State.
The field goal was Zeller’s reward for sprinting down the court so fast. It was an advantage he realized he could use during the pregame, when an assistant coach wrote the opposing players’ names, heights and weights on a planning board in the locker room.

The dimensions of 6-foot-10, 290-pound Mountaineer Isaac Butts particularly stood out.

“We saw 290, and I think John [Henson] was the first one to say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to get out on them … because we know 290 is tough to run,” Zeller said.

UNC built a lead as large as 29 points (76-47, on a Zeller free throw) in the second half before the Mountaineers dug back.

"We were really good for about the last 4 minutes of the first half and the first 4-5 minutes of the second half," said Williams, whose team had limited practice time this week because of exams. "And then we went brain-dead there for a while."

Still, the Tar Heels never trailed, and led by double figures for the entire second half as Zeller flirted with setting a new career high. But when he checked back into the game at the 6:41 mark with 31 points in his pocket, he didn’t attempt another shot before exiting again with 4 minutes to go.

“I don’t get caught up in that as much as everyone else,’’ he said of his numbers. “I thought it was funny when I missed a free throw [with 10:15 left], but just because it was one point short of 30 and everybody got kind of sad. But it was just something that … [once I checked back in], if I got the ball again, I’d try scoring it, and if not, then I’ll end up with 31.”

Zeller also finished with 10 rebounds, while Henson added 17 points and Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston chipped in 10 points apiece.

Omar Carter led Appalachian State with 21 points off the bench, but the Mountaineers – despite all that sprinting in practice this week – just couldn’t quite keep up.

“It’s something that we’re always looking for,’’ Zeller said of his team’s fast break. “It’s kind of funny, I heard their coach one time: I ran down and got a layup – and he said, ‘I told you he was going to do that.’”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- A quick look at No. 5/6 North Carolina’s 97-82 victory over Appalachian State on Saturday:

What it means: UNC senior forward Tyler Zeller, after an inconsistent start to his season, might finally be back on track. The senior 7-footer scored 31 points – one off his career high – and pulled down 10 rebounds to push UNC to victory.

How it happened: The Tar Heels took an early 13-2 lead (on 7 points from Zeller) before Mountaineers senior guard Omar Carter, who had started the previous nine games, came off the bench. Carter immediately scored on a jumper, and led a surge that cut UNC’s advantage to 34-30 (on a Carter 3-pointer) with 4:32 left in the first half. But the Tar Heels reeled off a 12-0 run before Carter (and App State) scored again. In all, UNC completed the half with a 14-2 run (the final bucket by Zeller) to take a 48-32 lead into the break.

UNC continued to pull away after that in the second half. It shot 54.5 percent, out-rebounded ASU by seven and won the scoring battle in the paint, 54-34.

John Henson chipped in 17 points for the Tar Heels; point guard Kendall Marshall had 13 assists and 2 turnovers. Carter led the Mountaineers with 21 points.

Numbers to know: The last time the Tar Heels played Appalachian State was in November 2000. Jason Capel – now head coach of the Mountaineers -- had 10 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists for UNC in that game.

(Another) number to know: UNC forward Harrison Barnes had scored in double figures 24 consecutive games before Saturday – which he finished with 9 points.

Hubbub: UNC coach Roy Williams was sporting a new, blue-and-black plaid coat for the occasion. It garnered mixed reviews from the folks on Twitter, but it did blend in with the Tar Heels’ color scheme better than the green jacket he donned during the Las Vegas Invitational.

What’s next: This marked the first contest in a three-games-in-five-days stretch for the Tar Heels, who will play Nicholls State at the Smith Center on Monday night. The Mountaineers will face Campbell at home on Thursday.
Saddle Up is our daily preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Embrace the conference tournament fever! Here's Monday night's rundown.

William & Mary vs. Old Dominion, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Who's ready for their close up? William & Mary and Old Dominion will play for the CAA Championship in Richmond, Va., tonight, a game that will be broadcast is as primetime a college hoops spot as possible. For many of you, it will be your first glimpse of two CAA teams on the court at the same time all year. What better time to study up than now? In that spirit, here's three important things to know about tonight's game. Impress your friends, or something:

  1. William & Mary has beaten every CAA team at least once in 2009-10 ... except for Old Dominion. The Monarchs beat the Tribe (let's take a second and appreciate just how awesome each of these teams' nicknames are, because they are awesome) twice this year, the first a three-point squeaker at William & Mary, the second a 19-point blowout at ODU.
  2. Old Dominion is far and away the more efficient team: The Monarchs are ranked No. 34 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rating, a full 80 spots ahead of William & Mary. Besides being the best offensive rebounding team per possession in the country (eat your heart out, West Virginia), the Monarchs make their bones on defense, where they're No. 18 in the nation, and where they hold opponents to 30.1 percent shooting from three. This is bad news for William & Mary, who rank fourth in the country in their ratio of 3-point attempts to field goal attempts; the Tribe shoot a tremendous amount of 3-point attempts, and if ODU can close out on shooters well, it could be a tough offensive night for the underdog.
  3. And what underdogs they are. Per ESPN researcher Jeremy Lundblad: "Since the advent of major college basketball -- or what we now call Division I -- in 1947-48, many teams have come and some have left D-I. However, only five have been playing major college basketball that whole time and never made the NCAA tournament. Northwestern, Army, William & Mary, Saint Francis (NY) and The Citadel were all part of the original 160 teams in D-I, but they were a collective 0-310 in trying to make the NCAA tournament entering this season." That number is now 0-313, as the Citadel, Army, and St. Francis have all bowed out of their respective conference tournaments. That leaves William & Mary fighting for their first NCAA tournament bid in history, a record that spans not only their own misfortunes but the misfortunes of several other clubs. Can the streak be broken? It'll be fun to find out.

St. Mary's vs. No. 14 Gonzaga, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: The more things change, the more Gonzaga beats St. Mary's to win the WCC conference tournament outright. I'm pretty sure that's how that saying goes. OK, maybe not, but it certainly applies: The Gaels are in the exact same position they were last year -- stuck on the bubble and needing a win over the hated Bulldogs to ensure an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. The Gaels are in better shape than in 2009, though: Joe Lunardi has St. Mary's in as a No. 11 seed already. Last year required a hurried return from injury from star player Patty Mills, and it didn't matter. Gonzaga rolled over St. Mary's in the conference title game, ending the Gaels' long-shot hopes of sneaking into the tournament with one dominant 40-minute stretch of basketball. This year is a slightly different story -- St. Mary's is looking like an at-large team with or without tonight's win. But don't for a second think St. Mary's doesn't want to improve their seed, not to mention dish out a little bit of revenge for years of Bulldog dominance out west.

Everywhere else: Siena's at-large chances died with their BracketBusters loss to Butler, but if the Saints can complete their run through the MAAC tournament with a win over Fairfield in tonight's championship game, it won't matter ... When I think Appalachian State, I think "upset"; the Wofford Terriers would very much like to avoid any such thing in the SoCon title game ... the 16-14 IPFW Mastodons will face Oakland in one of the Summit League semifinals, while Oral Roberts and IUPUI do battle in the other ... Western Kentucky will look to get one step closer to going back to the NCAA tournament in its Sun Belt semifinal match up with Troy ... and Denver will face North Texas in the other half of Hot Springs's bracket.