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Off the cuff: One thing that struck me during the Long Beach State game had nothing to do with basketball. Last year, during the Michigan State game, the home crowd booed when UNC quarterback T.J. Yates appeared on the big screens. During the Long Beach State game, Yates was introduced as one of the captains accepting an invitation to the Music City Bowl. The ovation, with most people standing, was almost deafening, especially considering that the Smith Center was only two-thirds full.

The other thing that stood out was Carolina guard play. The starting guards committed only three turnovers while dishing out 11 assists. Dexter Strickland had three assists and 13 points while Larry Drew had eight assists and 13 points. The bulk of Carolina's scoring has come from its big men this season.

"I always want to stay aggressive and look for my shot," Drew said. "Coming into the second half, I think I had only scored two points, but we were up 14. They started making a run, and it didn't really seem like our inside game was where it has been in the last couple of games. We were trying to get the ball into Z (Tyler Zeller) and Justin Knox, but they were doubling down, so I just took it upon myself just to try to be more aggressive."

Backup shooting guard Reggie Bullock scored eight points while backup point guard Kendall Marshall had five points and three assists. The more veteran starters are holding on to their playing time as Drew and Strickland combined for 55 minutes while Bullock and Marshall combined for 20.

Tar Heels 96, Long Beach State 91
Heels offense explodes for 96 points

North Carolina raced out to a 14-point halftime lead and extended the advantage to 17 early in the second half before holding on to a narrow 96-91 victory over Long Beach State at home. (12/11)

It proved to be one of the best offensive performances of the season as five players scored in double figures and the Tar Heels shot 56 percent from the field.

Long Beach State's T.J. Robinson exploded in the second half on his way to a 31-point effort as the 49ers tallied 57 second-half points to make it a game. In fact, the 49ers cut the lead to two points three times in the second half. Twice UNC's Harrison Barnes scored in the lane to up the lead and once Larry Drew II split the defense for a layup to keep the Heels ahead.

A fastbreak dunk and four free throws by Dexter Strickland in the last 25 seconds wrapped it up. Strickland finished with a season-high 13 points and fellow guard Larry Drew II also had a season-best 13. Barnes led the way with 19 points and 10 rebounds while Leslie McDonald came off the bench for 17 points, including five three pointers in the first half. Tyler Zeller added 10 points.

While the offense was flowing, the defense, which has been the catalyst most of the season, was the concern. "I was disappointed in our defense. We've been living off our defense for the last four or five games," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "We haven't shot the ball very well and today in the first half we made a bunch of shots."

The 49ers shot 52 percent and hit 10 threes. But improved guard play and fewer turnovers (11) helped the Heels offensive explosion. Carolina, 7-3, play Texas in Greensboro Saturday.

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