Zeller leads No. 5 UNC over Appalachian State
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Tyler Zeller had 31 points and 10 rebounds to lead No. 5 North Carolina past Appalachian State 97-82 on Saturday night.
John Henson added 17 points for the Tar Heels (9-2). They never trailed, led by 29 and shot 54.5 percent to claim their third straight win and 22nd in a row at the Dean Smith Center.
Omar Carter had 21 points and Mike Neal scored 15 for the Mountaineers (4-6). They finished 9 of 20 from 3-point range and used a late scoring flurry to cut into North Carolina's big lead, but lost their fourth straight.
Second-year Appalachian State coach Jason Capel lost his first matchup against his alma mater. He started for the Tar Heels from 1998-2002 under Bill Guthridge and Matt Doherty, and helped lead the Tar Heels to three NCAA tournaments and one Final Four.
Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston both finished with 10 points, while Harrison Barnes was held to nine -- the first time he failed to crack double figures this season. North Carolina was playing for the first time in a week after being off for final exams, and coach Roy Williams said his team didn't even hold an organized practice until Thursday because of the scattered exam schedule.
Things will pick up in a hurry for the Tar Heels, who started a nine-game homestand that includes three games in five days -- they play Nicholls State on Monday, followed by Texas on Wednesday -- by holding on to remain perfect against Appalachian State, which didn't get closer than 12 in the second half.
North Carolina pulled away from the Mountaineers, going up 20 on Bullock's 3-pointer with 16 1/2 minutes left and taking its largest lead roughly five minutes later when Hairston's free throw made it 75-46.
The Tar Heels then held off Appalachian State's comeback attempt to improve to 5-0 in the infrequent cross-state series, though the previous four victories came by an average of 24 points. They also have won 52 in a row against nonconference teams at home, a streak that dates to 2005.
Kendall Marshall had 13 assists -- his fifth game this season with at least 10 -- and North Carolina is 13-0 when he has at least nine.
Zeller finished one point shy of his previous high of 32 points, which came against Long Island last March in the Tar Heels' NCAA tournament opener. He had 20 points in the first half on 8-of-11 shooting and helped North Carolina essentially put this one away at the break.
The Mountaineers briefly made things interesting late in the half, hitting three 3-pointers in a 2-minute span to pull within 34-30 with 4 1/2 minutes left.
The Tar Heels reeled off 12 straight points and took their largest lead of the half on James Michael McAdoo's steal and dunk that put them up 46-30 in the final minute. Zeller's layup with 2 minutes left made it 48-32 at halftime.
Andre Williamson and Tab Hamilton each finished with 11 points for Appalachian State.