CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes was so eager for Wednesday’s rematch against Texas that he was at the Smith Center before noon, a full 90 minutes before his team’s shootaround, waiting for the Longhorns to leave the court so he could get in a bit more practice.
“I was ready and excited,’’ Barnes said after his No. 6 Tar Heels blew out Texas 82-63 at the Smith Center. “I just remember last year, and that was kind of my first big-game experience. To have that [78-76] loss, and that bad taste in your mouth, it kind of makes you want to get out there and make sure that when you come into this game, you did everything you could to be prepared for it.”
So he did. And he was.
Barnes -- still motivated by the Longhorns’ game winner with 1.4 seconds left to beat the Tar Heels last December, just after he buried a 3-pointer to tie it up -- made sure the younger, shorter Texas team didn’t have a chance at a repeat.
His 26 points and 10 rebounds were both season highs, and pushed him out of a mini-slump (4-for-12 each of his previous two games) that never really had him, or UNC coach Roy Williams, worried.
“I told him I thought he’d be great tonight,’’ Williams said. “Everyone only looks at the points, but I look at what we’re doing defensively. ... I really thought he was more active tonight. If he’s attacking the basket, I like that. I also like when he shoots the 3-point shot. He’s got a wide variety of options, and hopefully we are moving forward to where we can use all of them.”
North Carolina, which broke a four-game losing streak to the Longhorns, dominated from the outset, using its superior experience (six of Texas’ nine-man rotation were freshmen) and height (Texas’ tallest starters were 6-foot-7) to take a double-digit lead within the first eight minutes.
Barnes actually cheered the biggest series of first-half highlights from the bench.
With about six minutes left before halftime -- and UNC’s lead cut to eight points -- Tar Heels guard P.J. Hairston took a pass from point guard Kendall Marshall, drove from the wing, and threw down a one-handed transition dunk that had Texas freshman Julien Lewis on his back as he was whistled for the foul.
Hairston missed the free throw, but on UNC’s next possession, forward John Henson followed with a two-handed dunk. On the Heels’ ensuing possession, reserve Reggie Bullock scored in transition -- on a ball batted to him by Henson. That gave UNC a 30-16 advantage, “and that just kept us rolling,’’ said Henson, who had 14 points and eight rebounds.
Barnes, who had seven points by halftime, broke out in the second, scoring from all over the floor.
His most memorable highlight came with about 12 minutes to go, when UNC forward Tyler Zeller grabbed a steal and passed it to Bullock -- who found Barnes in the lane. The 6-8 wing promptly dunked it over 6-10 Texas forward Clint Chapman, then belted out a roar.
“It’s always fun,’’ said Barnes, who made 9 of his 15 shots. “I’ve always loved being in big games, because all my favorite players always thrived in big games. So it’s definitely something I look forward to.”
And why, Henson said, they’ve come up with another teasing moniker for the already-nicknamed “Black Falcon”: Big Game Ames. (As in Ames, Iowa, Barnes’ hometown.)
“He always shows up when we need him,’’ Henson said. “And that’s what we need from him.”
Three Longhorns -- Jonathan Holmes, J'Covan Brown and Sheldon McClellan -- finished with 16 points, but UNC outrebounded the Longhorns by 15 and held them to 34.8 percent shooting. For his part, Barnes said the most important thing about Wednesday’s game was the team’s increased concentration.
“I think the biggest things we’re going to take out of this is the level of intensity we need to maintain for ACC play,’’ he said. “We can’t come out and have slow starts; we can’t come out and be lackadaisical and have a lack of focus, because we saw how that went last year.
“A lot of games came down to the wire. A lot of games, [saw us] down by 10, storming back. And teams are targeting us more than last year.”
Which was why he was in the gym so early on Wednesday, making sure this game didn’t have a chance to go down to the wire again.
“I think just that shot [that Texas made last season] -- I’ll never forget that,’’ he said. “That was our first [time] losing on a last-second buzzer-beater. … That [3-pointer] I made before, it was my first big shot of the year, so I was happy, and I thought that was going to be our first big win, and we end up losing like that. So we definitely wanted to come in and win, especially here.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.