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Off the cuff: By the time the Tar Heels were trailing 15-8 after the first eight minutes, I had had enough of the people saying the important thing was to honor the men and women of the military on Veteran's Day. It was starting to look like the important thing was for Carolina to start playing some defense, finish their moves inside and hit some free throws.

Don't get me wrong, I'm as big a supporter of the military as anyone but this was not an exhibition game - this was the real deal. And Carolina seemed to be taking a backseat to the festivities and the enormity of the situation - the first time a game had been played on an aircraft carrier, and with the president in attendance to boot.

For the first 10 minutes of the game the Tar Heels were playing offensively into the setting sun. I don't think that was any excuse but Carolina did start playing better after the sun set.

Of course I was halfway expecting the increasing moisture on the floor to lead to an injury that would ruin, or severely hamper, the Tar Heels season. But Carolina nevertheless picked up the tempo and created some turnovers and got some blocks from John Henson. Before you knew it, the Tar Heels had taken the lead for good.

The Tar Heels, just like last season, are the kind of team that can go on runs that break the backs of opponents. Michigan State did make a run late but the final result never really seemed in doubt in the second half.

It was interesting to learn that the commander of the USS Carl Vinson (Bruce Lindsey) is a Carolina fan from Reidsville who has a daughter that is a senior at UNC.

Despite all the chill bumps the announcers and others got at the event (and they should), the pre-game seemed a little surreal. There was a listless ovation for the president and then a tepid singing of the national anthem by someone I'd never heard of but if I were culturally more aware would have I suppose. Then President Obama gave a rather long pre-game address to the crowd that seemed to turn into a campaign speech as he bragged about what he had done to get jobs for veterans and mentioned bringing Osama bin Laden to justice. Then, for no apparent reason, it was another 25 minutes before the tipoff. I hope those recording the game added some time to the end in order to actually see the whole game.

That all said, it was a wonderful gesture to have the game on an aircraft carrier to salute our troops. To repeat something you've probably heard a time or two, they are the true heroes.

Tar Heels 67, Michigan State 55
1st mission complete: Heels win opener
North Carolina completed its first mission of the year on the USS Carl Vinson Aircraft Carrier with a 67-55 over Michigan State on Veteran's Day. (11/11) Click here for a photo gallery.

Despite being outrebounded, the Tar Heels kept fighting and took a lead with five minutes left in the first half and never trailed again.

All-America Harrison Barnes led the way with 17 points, including three triples in the second half that kept the Spartans at bay. Barnes' first three gave Carolina its biggest lead of the game up to that point at 43-27. The second gave Carolina its biggest lead of the game at 59-39.

But the biggest three was the third that stopped the bleeding after the Spartans had outscored the Heels 10-0 to draw the deficit to 10 at 59-49 with six minutes left. Barnes lifted in a three from the left side with 5:20 left to make it 62-49 and Michigan State never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.

While Barnes was the leading scorer, the player of the game may well have been John Henson who scored 12 but had a career-high nine blocks to go with his seven rebounds.

Henson scored the first points of the game and the Tar Heels broke out to a 6-0 lead but the Spartans, behind superior rebounding, especially on the offensive end, went on a 15-2 run to take a 15-8 lead with 12 minutes left in the first half.

Still down five at 19-14, the Heels finally started to click, mostly due to strong defense. Sophomore Reggie Bullock sank his first basket of the season, his only basket of the game and it was a big one – a three from the right side to start a 12-0 Carolina run.

Kendall Marshall passed up court to Dexter Strickland who laid in a contested bucket to tie it at 19-all with 5:21 left in the half. A Spartan turnover led to a John Henson two-handed dunk in transition to give the Tar Heels their first lead since it was 6-4.

Carolina got its first double-digit lead when James Michael McAdoo popped in a jump hump from straight away to put the Heels up 34-23 with 1:11 left in the half.

Tyler Zeller preserved an 11-point lead at the half, 36-25, when he drew his third charging call on the Spartans.

Zeller, who missed his first five shots, finished with just nine points. Besides Barnes and Henson, the only other Tar Heel to score in double figures was Dexter Strickland. The Heels shot 47 percent compared to only 30.5 percent for the Spartans. Neither team did well from beyond the arc on the carrier. UNC was four of 12 while Michigan State was only two of 20. The Heels got to the line much more than the Spartans but only hit 15 of 23 free throws.


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