CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Harrison Barnes knocked down a shot a few seconds into his college debut. He ended the game by dribbling out the clock on North Carolina's first win in what coach Roy Williams hopes will be a bounceback season for his storied program.
Fitting, considering how much the Tar Heels (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP) plan to rely on their touted freshman.
Barnes scored 14 points to help North Carolina beat Lipscomb 80-66 on Friday night, winning its opener for the 76th time in the last 81 seasons.
Tyler Zeller scored 15 points to lead the Tar Heels, who didn't have the easiest time with the Bisons (0-1). North Carolina led by eight points at halftime and by 14 early in the second half, but didn't put the game away until the final five minutes.
Sophomore John Henson had a huge game, finishing with 10 points to go with career-highs of 17 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
But on this night, Barnes was the featured attraction. Widely regarded as the nation's No. 1 recruit, the 6-foot-8 forward recently became the first freshman named to The Associated Press preseason All-America team since voting began before the 1986-87 season. He finished 6 for 12 from the field to go with four rebounds, two assists and a block in 27 minutes.
Perhaps more impressive is the way he goes about scoring, staying within the offense with a polished all-around game that doesn't require him to force shots or dominate the ball.
"He's got a chance to be a heck of a player," Williams said. "He's a natural scorer, and as the game goes along and he gets more comfortable out there, I think the game will come easier to him."
Barnes' arrival comes just in time for a program that stewed all summer over last year's miserable 17-loss season, which included a run to the NIT championship game just a year after winning a second NCAA title in five seasons. Barnes is supposed to provide North Carolina with some of the perimeter scoring it sorely lacked last season.
"I try to mostly lead through my effort," Barnes said. "Tyler Zeller and Larry Drew, they've won a championship here and I haven't been through some of the experiences they have, so I can't lead as vocally because I haven't been there. But I can show up every day for practice, show up every day for games, let my game speak for itself and hopefully encourage guys to work harder."
Barnes' fellow freshmen also turned in strong debuts off the bench. Reggie Bullock had 12 points, while Kendall Marshall had 10 points and three assists -- and found himself on the court instead of starting point guard Larry Drew II as the Tar Heels sealed the victory in the final minute.
"They're going to be big pieces to our team as you can see," Henson said. "They played tough and I can say that they played a lot better than I did in my debut here."
In addition to the game's first basket, Barnes also got the Tar Heels' last basket of the first half, using a pump fake to get Brandon Brown airborne then taking a step inside to calmly bury a jumper from the left wing just before the horn for a 43-35 lead.
If anything, Barnes sounded relieved to have played better than he did in last week's exhibition win against Division II Barton. He had seven points on 2-for-9 shooting with six turnovers in that game, and joked that he was relaxed for his debut because "I knew I couldn't get any worse."
"After last Friday, the coaches have really been stressing to me that you can't let your offense dictate how you play the game," Barnes said. "You have to have continual effort on defense and on rebounding because those are the only things you have control over."
The Tar Heels pushed their lead to 50-36 on a stickback from Zeller with 17 1/2 minutes left, but didn't put the game away. The Bisons hung around and slowly cut into the lead, getting as close as 59-56 on two free throws from Brown with 8:25 left.
North Carolina finally got some breathing room when Bullock scored on a stickback of his own miss, then Henson tipped in a miss from Bullock and Zeller followed with a hook shot to make it 69-58 with 4:53 left. Lipscomb got no closer than nine points from there.
Josh Slater scored 21 points for Lipscomb, which fell to 0-4 all-time against ranked opponents.
"They are extremely long. We knew that," Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson said. "It's hard to simulate their length during practice. ... But I was proud of our team and their effort and the way they battled for 40 minutes."