CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --With about 9 minutes left at the Smith Center on Saturday afternoon, Boston College’s Patrick Heckmann buried a 3-pointer to cut North Carolina’s once-21-point-lead to 9.
You never got the feeling the outcome of the eventual 83-60 victory was in doubt. Not with Tar Heels wing Harrison Barnes (25 points) hitting shots from all over the floor; forwards Tyler Zeller (20 points) and John Henson (14) shooting better than 50 percent; and point guard Kendall Marshall once again dishing out double-digits assists (11).
All against a rebuilding Eagles team that starts five freshmen.
But it’s another reminder that fourth-ranked UNC (14-2) has to continue to work on something less tangible than free throws or rebounding or steals. It has figure out how to create, and maintain, intensity. Especially in an ACC where every team, better or bad, wants to push the Tar Heels from atop the standings.
“In league play, you’ve got to be able to play the whole total game,’’ North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “And you’ve got to be able to do it for 40 minutes.”
Williams agreed the his team, which outrebounded the Eagles by 11 and helped force 20 turnovers, lost concentration after opening the second half with a 10-2 run that gave it a 50-29 lead.
UNC started missing shots while BC started connecting, but it was more than that. The Tar Heels – who haven’t played a truly competitive game since early January, winning their previous five outings by an average of 31.8 points – started juggling its focus.
“I really got ticked off there for a couple minutes when it got down to 9 or 10,’’ Williams said. “It wasn’t because it got down to 9 or 10, it was because we decided not to help down in the post, and Kendall goes and helps down in the post, and the [BC] guy makes a 3.
“We say ‘go over the screen’ and Harrison went below the screen, and the guy makes the 3. Next time, he goes below the screen, Z [Zeller] steps out and helps him, and [BC] throws it to Z’s man for a layup. You can’t make those kinds of mistakes. … So I told them it was very reasonable that I was upset.”
Barnes eventually stopped the Eagles run with a bucket. And BC, led by Matt Humphrey’s 14 points, managed only four field goals in the final 9 minutes.
But its comeback gave the young Eagles (5-10) something to build on: "When it looked like Carolina was going to shove us out the door, I thought these guys showed a lot of character and toughness," BC coach Steve Donahue said.
Before, he added, his Eagles let their guard down, too – something that can probably be expected from a team featuring nine freshmen.
But not something UNC can afford.
“I think that sometimes when we get a big lead, we let up defensively and just want to run out and score,” Henson said. “I think we just need to play ‘D’ a little harder, and especially when we’re up by a lot, push it a little harder.”
Or risk having a more seasoned team than Boston College whittle leads to less than 9 points.
BRIEFLY: Freshman James Michael McAdoo, doubtful to play because of a sprained left ankle, finished with 3 points and 7 rebounds in 11 minutes. ... Barnes has scored 20 or more points in three of his past four games, and is averaging 22.2 points during that stretch. ... This marked Marshall's seventh double-figure assist game this season. He now has 13 for his career, tying Kenny Smith for fourth-most 10-plus assist games in Tar Heels history.
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.