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Heels' height overwhelms

Tyler Zeller, North Carolina’s 7-foot center who scores 32, shoots over Kenny Onyechi of Long Island, whose tallest starter is 6-7.

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Tyler Zeller, North Carolina’s 7-foot center who scores 32, shoots over Kenny Onyechi of Long Island, whose tallest starter is 6-7.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tyler Zeller and John Henson scored almost at will inside against an overmatched opponent. Harrison Barnes wasn't bad, either.

Still, amid the career highs and gaudy numbers, there was just enough sloppiness, turnovers and bad 3-point shooting for North Carolina coach Roy Williams.

Zeller scored 32, Henson had 28 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks and Barnes had 24 points and 16 rebounds as North Carolina used its hulking size to mask other problems in a 102-87 victory over scrappy Long Island on Friday.

"Am I pleased about the win? You're darn right," Williams said. "Am I pleased about some of the turnovers? Not at all. Am I pleased about going 3-for-17 from the 3-point line? Not at all. But we have to build on this to be ready to play better in the next game."

Williams also was quick to point out it was good to be back on this stage.

After winning the 2009 NCAA title, North Carolina (27-7) was relegated to the NIT in a 17-loss season. Friday wasn't as easy as expected, but the second-seeded Tar Heels wore down the 15th-seeded Blackbirds.

The 7-foot Zeller and 6-10 Henson consistently turned high passes into layups over LIU to record career highs in points. They combined to hit 22 of 29 free throws. Henson, a graduate of Tampa's Sickles High who entered as a 47 percent free-throw shooter, made 8 of 10.

"We had mismatches inside," Zeller said. "So we just kept throwing it inside, and I got lucky and made some shots."

LIU (27-6), whose tallest starter was 6-7, faded after a 12-0 run tied it with about five minutes left in the first half.

"We don't see size like that. I don't think there are many teams in the country that are that long," coach Jim Ferry said. "We're a team that goes inside a lot and gets fouled. But they had 10 blocked shots. We're just not used to that."

Still, North Carolina was far from sharp despite playing 2½ hours from its campus.

There were the 18 turnovers, the meltdown in the first half, and a hiccup midway through the second when a 21-point lead was cut to 10.

"I think it's one of those things that nobody has played significant minutes in the tournament," said Zeller, one of only two players left from the 2009 team. "It's one of those things that when you get up by 10 or 15 in a regular-season game, they might just go away. But it's their last game, and they're going to keep coming back."

The Blackbirds, the Northeast Conference champions making their first NCAA appearance since 1997, fell to 0-4 in the tournament despite a decent showing in a difficult environment.

"I hope we did prove something," said Jamal Olasewere, who scored 15 to go along with Julian Boyd's team-high 18. "We went out there and played as hard as we could. And we gave North Carolina a fight with them being an ACC team and No. 2 seed. I think we proved a lot even though we lost."

Henson surpassed his career high by halftime with 20 points, and Barnes' late scoring spurt put the Tar Heels up 53-42 at the break. A 7-0 run to start the second half gave the Tar Heels more breathing room. Henson, whose previous career high was 19 points, later scored six straight to make it 66-45 with 16:47 left.

The Tar Heels, however, know, things will get tougher.

"We made some crucial mistakes," Zeller said. "Those are mistakes we can't make in the further rounds."

George Mason 61, 'nova 57: Luke Hancock made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 21 seconds left — "I was kind of hoping and praying," he said — for the eighth-seeded Patriots in Cleveland.

It was the first tournament win for George Mason (27-6) since beating Connecticut to reach the 2006 Final Four. Since then, it qualified for only the 2008 tournament, where it lost to Notre Dame by two in the first round.

"This is our team here; two different years and two different teams," said Mike Morrison, a graduate of St. Petersburg's Lakewood High who slammed home the final basket after Villanova missed its last shot. "We are trying to do what we have to do for ourselves."

The ninth-seeded Wildcats (21-12), once ranked No. 5 in the nation, lost their final six games and failed to get out of the first weekend of the tournament for the second straight season.

"We never expected to go out like this," said guard Corey Stokes, using a towel to dry his eyes. "I'm proud of my teammates. We played our hearts out."

Washington 68, Georgia 65: Isaiah Thomas scored 19 and the seventh-seeded Huskies (24-10) held on in Charlotte. Trey Thompkins had 26 points and 11 rebounds for the 10th-seeded Bulldogs (21-12), who trailed by 10 with two minutes left.

He made a 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds left to make it 67-65, and Georgia fouled C.J. Wilcox with 3.7 left. Wilcox made the first free throw and missed the second.

Jeremy Price got the rebound for the Bulldogs and flung the ball downcourt. Thomas got a hand on the pass, but Travis Leslie scooped up the ball and hoisted a 3-pointer that bounced high off the glass.

Ohio St. 75, Texas-San Antonio 46: Playing in Cleveland, a two-hour drive from their Columbus campus, the top-seeded Buckeyes led by 16 at halftime and by as many as 38 in the second half.

With 12:12 left and Ohio State (33-2) up by 23, coach Thad Matta pulled star freshman Jared Sullinger, who had 11 points and nine rebounds. Moments later, he pulled seniors David Lighty, William Buford and Jon Diebler.

"It's awful hard to beat us when the offensive weapons that we have are all clicking at the same time," Lighty said.

Melvin Johnson scored just five for the 16th-seeded Roadrunners (20-14) after a career-high 29 in Wednesday's first-round win over Alabama State.

"Wow," coach Brooks Thompson said. "They're good. Sullinger, our guys were just bouncing off him. It was pretty comical."

Marquette 66, Xavier 55: Darius Johnson-Odum scored 19 and Jimmy Butler 15 for the 11th-seeded Golden Eagles in Cleveland. Marquette (21-14) led by 13 at halftime then held on the few times the sixth-seeded Musketeers cut the lead to single digits.

After the final buzzer, Marquette coach Buzz Williams stopped in front of the band, gave a satisfied nod as he looked toward his team's fans and soaked in the moment.

"It was a deep, relaxing exhale to be able to go, 'Thanks for coming,' " he said. "I'm glad we get to stay another couple of nights because I know that those people that got here, however they got here, they didn't just come because we were 20-14. They came because of what Marquette means to them."

Xavier (24-8) and Michigan State were the only teams to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the past three tournaments. Tu Holloway, the Atlantic 10 player of the year who entered scoring 20.2 points per game, missed his first seven shots and scored only five.

"I really can't figure it out," he said. "I guess I was just missing shots."

Heels' height overwhelms 03/18/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 19, 2011 12:41am]
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