WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The misses kept piling up for No. 5 North Carolina and Wake Forest on Tuesday night. The Tar Heels managed to help themselves by dominating the boards and capitalizing on the Demon Deacons' mistakes.
Tyler Zeller had 18 points and a career-best 18 rebounds to help North Carolina beat Wake Forest 68-53 despite its worst shooting performance of the season.
John Henson had 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Tar Heels (19-3, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference). But they shot 31 percent, missed all the 3-point shots they buried two days earlier against Georgia Tech and found themselves in a closer-than-it-should-have-been game against a team near the bottom of the league.
"It was an ugly game," coach Roy Williams said, "and sometimes you have to win ugly if you're going to have a great year."
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North Carolina did that by taking a 55-40 rebounding advantage, including 22 offensive rebounds that led to 20 second-chance points. The Tar Heels converted 11 turnovers by the Demon Deacons (11-11, 2-6) into 11 points, while committing just six turnovers themselves that Wake Forest failed to convert into a single point.
The game closed a three-game week for the Tar Heels, who beat rival North Carolina State last Thursday then defeated Georgia Tech on Sunday. They shot the ball well in the past two wins and hit 10 3-pointers against the Yellow Jackets, but they didn't bring that with them to Winston-Salem.
In a sign of what was to come, North Carolina's first three field goals were all second-chance baskets off its own misses, while the Tar Heels shot just 4 for 19 from 3-point range.
No North Carolina player shot even 50 percent, while perimeter threats Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston combined to shoot 6 for 26 from the field and miss 11 of 13 3-point tries.
"That's just basketball," Marshall said. "You can't expect 50, 60 percent from the floor every night. A lot of shots that we were missing were great shots and we weren't missing terribly, so you can't frown upon that. You have to look at that as a positive that we are getting great shots and just keep working to get in extra shots and hope they go in next time."
While the Tar Heels could shake off the bad shooting, their biggest concern was probably the health of Barnes, who rolled his left ankle while running downcourt untouched midway through the first half.
Barnes headed to the locker room for several minutes in the first half to have his ankle re-taped. He re-entered the game with 1:23 left and hit a 3-pointer in the final minute, giving North Carolina a 36-24 halftime lead.
But as the team prepared to return to the court for the second half, Barnes winced as he tried to lightly jump around outside the locker room. Then, as the team started to jog out, Barnes stopped and stepped out of the line as his teammates ran by and returned to the locker room. He made it out for the second half and labored through 15 more minutes, finishing with 13 points.
Williams said Barnes would get a few days off to rest before the team travels to Maryland on Saturday.
"It's in a lot of pain right now so we're going to have to see where it is later," Barnes said.
North Carolina went 1 for 13 to start the second half and led just 40-34 with about 14 minutes left before running off a 12-0 spurt to pull away. Kendall Marshall knocked down a 3-pointer, then Bullock added his only 3 before Zeller tipped in a miss from Marshall to give UNC a 60-38 lead with 6:11 left.
The Demon Deacons never managed any sort of offensive push, shooting 30 percent and going 2 for 18 from 3-point range.
"We had some looks, but you've got to keep scoring," Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "You have to score the ball. You go back and watch the film, we had shots around the rim and we had some open shots. We've got to make them. We've got to finish the play."
C.J. Harris scored 19 points to lead the Demon Deacons, who were greeted by plenty of empty green seats and a large splattering of Carolina blue from the stands in their own building for this one.
"They were tremendous with their length and athleticism," said Harris, who scored his 1,000th career point. "But we had some open looks that we didn't make."