TMA: Strickland's knee to be evaluated

The (Early) Morning After: Thoughts, notes and anything else that didn’t quite make this space after North Carolina’s latest game (in this case, No. 8 UNC's 82-68 win over Virginia Tech at Cassell Coliseum on Tuesday night).

BLACKSBURG, Va. – North Carolina coach Roy Williams credited his team’s second-half defense for its 82-68 victory at Virginia Tech on Thursday night.

But it had to play most of that half without its best perimeter stopper, junior Dexter Strickland, who suffered a right knee injury after halftime.

It’s unclear how long the eighth-ranked Tar Heels might have to be without him.

“I hate it for Dexter,’’ Williams said after the game. “I have no idea about the extent of his injury."

With 16:44 left, Strickland’s right knee buckled when he was driving to the basket. He lay on the baseline in obvious pain before being helped to the bench, where medical staff iced, then bandaged, it.

He was limping around the locker room without help after the game, and will be re-evaluated by team doctors on Friday.

“I’m not sure anything popped, but I did come down pretty awkward,’’ Strickland, who was in foul trouble for most of the first half and played only 10 minutes, said. “It hurt. It’s a little sore right now, but the doctors will take a look when we get back to the school, and see how it looks.”

Strickland, who played on a sprained ankle at Florida State on Saturday, also injured his right knee last season. In February, he said last season, he slightly tore his meniscus. He opted not to have surgery, playing on it the rest of the year. And ultimately, he said, he didn’t need surgery during the summer because his knee felt great without it.

Eighth-ranked UNC doesn’t play again until Thursday vs. NC State, but if Strickland has to miss any games, sophomore Reggie Bullock and freshman P.J. Hairston will have to fill in.

Strickland said he planned to stay positive on his trip back to Chapel Hill.

“Hopefully, everything is OK,’’ he said.

BARNES FIRED UP: Sophomore Harrison Barnes said he "just had to do whatever the team needed," when he jump-started the Tar Heels' second half comeback. That meant connecting on shots.

Barnes scored the first six points in a 22-2 run that ultimately pushed the Tar Heels back into the lead, and to a blowout victory. In all, he was 6-for-6 in the second half, scoring 21 of his game-high 27 points in the second half.

“He just got that fire in his eye,” said teammate John Henson, who finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds. “He took the game over, and that’s what we want from him.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.