Bum ankle or not, Harrison Barnes wasn’t about to let North Carolina lose another game on the road. Endure another Florida State setback with Duke looming? No way.
So Barnes shook off the ankle pain lingering from a sprain suffered earlier in the week, scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half and even played a little defense in as UNC rallied from a nine-point deficit for an 83-74 win Saturday vs. Maryland. The 6-7 sophomore didn’t have the greatest body language in the first half, but that changed when the Heels started to get serious.
“I didn’t tell him, but I said to myself if I saw him limping around again on the defensive end I was going to take him out,” Heels coach Roy Williams said. “Maybe he picked up on my vibe because he stopped limping.”
Not that Barnes was faking. He re-injured the ankle early in the second half. From the Raleigh News & Observer:
“It was a lot of pain,” Barnes said. “It was like somebody shot me in the ankle. I think that’s about how much pain there was. Because it was already hurt. Then you do the same thing again to it, it (was) a lot of pain.”
He spoke on a padded table outside the Tar Heels’ locker room, surrounded by reporters, going through postgame stretches with a trainer. He said he entered the game feeling about 60 percent healthy, but when asked if there was a chance he’d miss it, Barnes didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“Thought never crossed my mind,” he said. “I was always going to try to go out there and do as much as I could.”
Barnes didn’t do it alone. Tyler Zeller continued his All-America type season (22 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) and John Henson notched a double-double, while Kendall Marshall had 16 assists.
Also notable? Reggie Bullock’s 11 points and five rebounds in 34 minutes. The 6-6 sophomore wing’s playing well as a new starter in the three games since Dexter Strickland’s torn ACL cost him the rest of the season. His scoring’s up and his defense has been better than expected, both in one-on-one situations and with the team overall.
In three games without Strickland, UNC’s scoring 1.12 points per possession and only giving up .951.In the five ACC games before that, the Heels managed 1.02 PPP and allowed .964. They’ve also played three of the ACC’s worst teams (Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Maryland), but it’s worth noting with a crucial game coming up.
Yes, it’s Duke-UNC week. Barnes better get to work on icing that ankle.
He’s the one player on the Heels’ roster who presents a serious matchup issue for Duke, because of his mix of size and quickness. If his ankle’s anywhere near 100 percent, it bodes well for UNC’s chances to stay atop the ACC. And if not, things could get interesting.
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