North Carolina rolls past Creighton 87-73 in NCAAs

AARON BEARD AP Basketball Writer Published:

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- John Henson proved he's healthy enough to help North Carolina's latest push for the Final Four.

The junior had 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in his return from a wrist injury, and the Tar Heels beat Creighton 87-73 on Sunday in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Kendall Marshall added 18 points and 11 assists for the top-seeded Tar Heels (31-5), who reached the round of 16 for a record 25th time. North Carolina got off to a fast start and built a 15-point lead in the first half, then kept control and pushed the margin to 19 after the break on the way to its second straight double-digit victory in the Midwest Regional.

Doug McDermott scored 20 points for the eight-seeded Bluejays (29-6), who shot 41 percent and couldn't keep up with the hot-shooting Tar Heels.

Henson had missed the last three games after spraining his left wrist during the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament when he fell to the court while being fouled. His return drew a roar from the home-state fans filling the Greensboro Coliseum, both when he jogged out with his teammates for pregame warmups and when he was introduced during the starting lineups.

Most of the time, Henson looked like his old self, knocking down midrange jumpers or using his long frame to snatch rebounds or swat shots. He drew a technical foul in the first half when he got angry and started jawing with a Creighton defender who had chopped at the ball in Henson's hands in the paint. He also had a moment when he cringed after taking a blow to the hands on a foul, which forced coach Roy Williams to pull him briefly in the first half.

Other than that, though, Henson's return -- and depending on how well he recovers -- means the Tar Heels are finally getting their team together in time for a trip to the regional semifinals in St. Louis.

Henson's return overshadowed the reunion of McDermott and UNC's Harrison Barnes, who teamed together to lead Ames High School in Iowa to consecutive state championships and unbeaten seasons. McDermott came in averaging about 23 points and eight rebounds, while Barnes was leading the Tar Heels in scoring at about 17 per game.

That matchup never materialized, with Henson and freshman James Michael McAdoo getting most of the defensive work against McDermott. Barnes finished with 17 points on 7-for-19 shooting, including back-to-back 3-pointers to turn away Creighton's final push after the Bluejays had closed within 12 with about 5½ minutes left.

Creighton came in leading the country with a 50.7 percent shooting average, but it couldn't figure out a way to put the on-the-attack Tar Heels on the defensive.

Meanwhile, North Carolina buried shot after shot in the first half to build a 39-24 lead on Barnes' 3-pointer with 5½ minutes left. UNC led by eight at half, but Creighton never got closer after the break.

Reggie Bullock added 13 points and eight rebounds for the Tar Heels, including three 3-pointers. The Tar Heels hit 14 of their first 19 shots and finished at 51 percent for the game.