CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina shot badly and didn't have a lot of intensity while playing in front of a home crowd that seemed almost bored.
Perhaps a demanding four-game stretch finally caught up to the 19th-ranked Tar Heels - even if it wasn't enough for them to lose to the Atlantic Coast Conference's worst team.
Tyler Zeller scored 18 points to help North Carolina beat Wake Forest 78-64 on Tuesday night, which kept it alone in second place in the league.
Freshman Harrison Barnes added 17 points and provided at least some spark during a clinching 11-0 second-half spurt with a pair of dunks. But otherwise, this performance just didn't measure up with the way North Carolina (19-6, 9-2 ACC) had played in recent wins at Boston College and Clemson, at home against Florida State or in last week's close loss at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium - where the Tar Heels led by 16 just before halftime before faltering in the second half.
Instead, the Tar Heels coasted and led just 63-55 with less than 7 minutes left before the decisive spurt.
``I think we took too much of a deep breath,' coach Roy Williams said. ``I don't mind you catching your breath, but you've got to be more focused than we were.'
North Carolina has won 12 of 14 since losing to Texas on a last-second shot in December and sits right behind the Blue Devils in the standings. Still, this might have been its worst game since a clunker at Georgia Tech in which UNC lost by 20 to a team sitting just ahead of Wake Forest (8-18, 1-10) in the league's basement.
North Carolina shot 37 percent and seemed content to settle for long-range shots - Williams could at least take solace that they were open looks - against the zone defense. The Tar Heels shot 5-for-27 from 3-point range, extending a miserable stretch in which they've gone just 7-for-47 since halftime of the loss to the Blue Devils.
The Tar Heels helped themselves by taking a 50-35 rebounding advantage, including 20 offensive boards that led to 16 second-chance points that offset some of the shooting struggles.
``It felt a little flat,' Zeller said. ``It's one of those things that hopefully we can change and start shooting like we were a couple of weeks ago.'
Things should get a little easier. This game started a favorable run with four of the final six regular-season games at home.
``I think Coach is a little upset with how we played tonight,' said sophomore John Henson, who had 14 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. ``In order to be a great team, you've got to knock teams out like this. We didn't do that like we wanted to, but this is a learning experience and it's something we've got to start doing.'
The Demon Deacons had created a small buzz - or, more likely, relief - when they edged Virginia on Jan. 29 to end talk of whether they would become the first team to go 0-16 in ACC play. But they hadn't won since, with a one-point home loss to Miami standing as the closest thing to a highlight alongside three league losses by 21 points or more.
While this one wasn't quite as ugly, it ended with the same dull pain rolling through their locker room.
``We have tears in that locker room all the time,' first-year coach Jeff Bzdelik said. ``They flow. They hurt, I hurt, we all hurt. When you're not winning, it takes courage to not let people challenge your confidence. You need to persevere through that, and if you do, there will be a great reward through the very end.'
After trailing by 18 points in the first half, Wake Forest pulled within eight on a 3-pointer from Ari Stewart with 6:45 left. But Barnes soon threw down a dunk in the lane while drawing a foul from Stewart for a three-point play that made it 67-55.
About a minute later, Barnes caught a pass from Kendall Marshall in transition and dunked over freshman J.T. Terrell to make it 71-55. Marshall closed the run with his only basket, a 3, to make it 74-55 with 2:40 left.
Meanwhile, the Demon Deacons were in the midst of going 5 1/2 minutes without a field goal at exactly the worst moment.
``From start to finish, we all thought we had a chance,' said Terrell, who led Wake Forest with 18 points. ``Not once did we get down on ourselves and think we weren't going to win this game. We just fought hard.'
The Associated Press News Service
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