UNC, Zeller on a rebounding roll

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Early in Thursday’s first half, North Carolina forward Tyler Zeller missed a bucket, grabbed his rebound. Missed again, grabbed that rebound. Then missed again before finally scoring to to give his Tar Heels an early advantage.

“It’s always great to get 13 rebounds,” the senior quipped after No. 5/6 UNC’s 100-62 blowout victory over Elon. “But I would hope they wouldn’t be 13 rebounds off my own shots.”

He’ll take them, though -- especially because it extends a trend he’s never pulled down before.

The 7-footer tied his career high for rebounds (13, including a career-best nine on the offensive end) against the Phoenix, marking the fourth straight game he has recorded double-digit rebounds.

Missed shots or no, the streak is significant, because before this two-week stretch, Zeller had never managed 10 or more rebounds even in back-to-back collegiate games.

“He’s just getting down there and getting rebounds, and he’s getting better and better,’’ said UNC junior forward John Henson, who snagged 11 boards, himself, to go along with 16 points (including six dunks). “And coming from me, once you figure out how to get 10 rebounds, it’s easy. So I think you’ll see a lot more from him in the rebounding department.”

Zeller, who led the team with 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting, laughed at the idea that pulling 10 rebounds a game is easy, comparing the 6-11 Henson’s long limbs to his shorter wingspan.

But for Zeller and the Tar Heels, it seems to be getting easier, which could bode well come ACC play.

Thursday marked the fourth time this season UNC has pulled down at least 62 total rebounds. That’s despite letting five foes finish games with the rebounding edge.

Granted, those large totals have come against shorter teams (Mississippi Valley State, Evansville, Nicholls, Elon), as has Zeller’s four-game streak in double figures (App. State, Nicholls, Texas, Elon).

But coach RoyWilliams said that both Zeller and his teammates have been focusing more on the boards, because they want that to be an advantage, no matter their opponents’ size.

“It made coach mad, so it made us mad that he was mad,’’ Zeller said of the times his team was outrebounded.

Williams said he was pretty impressed by Zeller’s 11-rebound performance against the aggressive Longhorns last week, so the senior picked up where he left off after an eight-day holiday break.

The starting power forward pulled down five of his offensive rebounds -- and recorded six, total -- during a 23-0 first half UNC run that put the Phoenix away, for good.

P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock each added six boards apiece off the bench, while Harrison Barnes (who had 18 points and a career-high five assists) also chipped in five rebounds.

Forward Lucas Troutman (11 points, 10 boards) recorded a double-double for Elon, which nonetheless got outrebounded by 29.

“It’s something we’ve been emphasizing a lot recently, and we know we can be a great rebounding team,’’ Zeller said. “So we think we can get better from where we are now, and hopefully we improve over the next couple of months.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.