The North Carolina Tar Heels men's basketball team is full of finesse and style when it comes to basketball, but they have been accused of lacking toughness and grit. It certainly appears UNC found those traits late in the game against Wisconsin, as they gutted out a non-spectacular 60-57 win over the seventh-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
UNC (6-1) actually won a game off of fundamental basketball, playing tough defense down the stretch and hitting key free throws to put the game away. This could very well be the much-needed game that might instill some toughness in this team.
Wisconsin (6-1) ran an exceptional game plan, continuously running the shot clock down and limiting Carolina's possessions.
Carolina had success early in the game establishing a fast-paced tempo, and they came out of the gate on fire to open the game.
The Tar Heels sprinted out to a 19-10 lead after only nine minutes of game clock. It appeared early on that Wisconsin was rattled by the fast-paced Tar Heels, who used quickness to get big baskets from Dexter Strickland, Harrison Barnes and John Henson.
Wisconsin, however, gathered their rhythm and went on a 12-2 run over a nine-minute stretch to take a 22-21 lead with just over two minutes left in the first half. Wisconsin executed plays by milking the shot clock and getting good shots at the end of the possessions. Carolina was unable to force turnovers and played right into the hands of the Badger tempo.
After big baskets from John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor, the Heels took a 25-24 lead into the half.
How does winning "ugly" games affect finesse teams such as North Carolina?
At the start of the second half, it was obvious that both teams left everything out there on defense. Neither team could get open shots, and after 10:58 left, Wisconsin was clinging to a 36-34 lead.
Junior guard Dexter Strickland increased his defensive intensity on Badger point guard Jordan Taylor, who had scored 11 points up to that point.
After Taylor made a layup to increase the Badger lead to 38-34 with 10:58 left, Carolina went on an 8-0 run, with sophomore forward Harrison Barnes scoring on a jumper and two free throws.
Barnes then took over offensively, scoring 12 of Carolina's next 23 points, extending the Carolina lead to 54-45 with 1:03 left in the game. Barnes finished with a game-high 20 points.
Carolina finished off the Badgers with key free throws from Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller.
Author's Observation: This was a great game to watch, and it was a much-needed win for Carolina, who came in losing to UNLV in Las Vegas. It was awesome to see Carolina scrap with a physical team, who played with a spectacular game plan. It is a good win for the Heels.
*Junior forward John Henson played a brilliant game for Carolina, pulling down 17 rebounds, scoring eight points and blocking five shots.
*Dexter Strickland scored nine points, Tyler Zeller added 12 and Kendall Marshall dished out seven assists.
*Carolina's bench scored only seven points; five points from sophomore Reggie Bullock and two points from freshman forward James McAdoo.
*Jordan Taylor led the Badgers with 18 points, Jared Berggren added 14 points and Ryan Evans scored 10 points for the Badgers.