SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Harrison Barnes made everything look so easy: running the court, the 3-pointers, the face-up game. The North Carolina freshman did just about anything he wanted to do against Hofstra.
Barnes was so dominant in the first half of UNC’s 107-63 win over Hofstra that he could be selfless in the second half and allow the rest of Carolina’s players to gain confidence and find their roles.
Of course, this was an anomaly for the Tar Heels. Don’t expect North Carolina to run many teams out of the building and lead by 25 at halftime, like it did to a depleted Hofstra on Thursday at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. But the 19-point (7-9 FG, 4-4 3-pt), 5-board performance in 14 first-half minutes by Barnes could become the norm.
“It was incredible,’’ said North Carolina forward Tyler Zeller of Barnes’ sizzling first half, laughing and pointing at the preseason All-American who was sitting next to him in the locker room. “In practice there are times when he doesn’t miss. He’s definitely a very good shooter.’’
There’s a reason that Barnes was tabbed as the top player in the class of 2010 and the first freshman to ever be named AP first-team preseason all-American. He is quite simply a game-changer.
“It’s very comforting,’’ said UNC guard Larry Drew II of having Barnes on his team. “It relaxes me knowing that he’s out there. It definitely puts a lot of pressure on the defense.’’
Barnes took two more shots in the second half, one of which one was a 3. He missed both. But it didn’t mean anything since he had already made his mark for the Tar Heels, the slew of NBA scouts and everyone else here at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico. North Carolina cruised to the 44-point victory and will face either Minnesota or Western Kentucky in the semis Friday night.
“There was great ball movement, and we were attacking the zone,’’ Barnes said. “The second half I just had to make sure that everyone got involved. They guarded me differently in the second half, too. But we got our other teammates involved.’’
Zeller and John Henson did their part as well, combining for 23 points and 19 rebounds. But the more important development was the play of the much-maligned guards. Drew was steady with six assists and one turnover. Kendall Marshall had 9 assists and 2 turnovers and Reggie Bullock added 6 points. Dexter Strickland was a solid wing and efficient in making 4 of 5 shots
“We’re making things happen,’’ Drew II said. “Last year we made the best of the situation last year. But we didn’t have someone like Harrison to make the plays that he makes.’’
The Heels lost 17 games last season and missed the NCAA tournament. North Carolina coach Roy Williams called the season the most frustrating of his career, just a year after winning the national title. If Barnes can produce like he did Thursday, he won’t be sweating nearly as much this season.