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Tar Heels leave Deacons in their wake

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — North Carolina forward Brice Johnson figured if he kept making baskets maybe coach Roy Williams would be more forgiving for a first-half lapse.

Johnson scored 19 points and No. 15 North Carolina pulled away in the second half to defeat Wake Forest 87-71 on Wednesday night at Lawrence Joel Coliseum.

Williams was irate with Johnson for failing to track a loose ball.

“When I think you’re really good and consistent is when you’re doing it at both ends of the court,” Williams said.

Johnson and forward Kennedy Meeks, who racked up 16 points, were both efficient on offense as they each made 8 of 11 shots from the field.

“We were good on the offensive end,” Johnson said. “We have to do it on the defensive end, too. The second half we were able to do that.”

The Tar Heels (15-4, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot a season-high 60.3 percent from the field, won their fourth game in a row as forward Justin Jackson had 17 points and guard Marcus Paige tallied 12 points.

Guard Codi Miller-McIntyre’s 20 points and forward Devin Thomas’ 12 points paced Wake Forest, which hadn’t played since Jan. 13. Guard Mitchell Wilbekin and forward Dinos Mitoglou had 10 points apiece.

North Carolina was coming off a 68-53 victory over Virginia Tech, but that was its lowest output in a win this season. The Tar Heels were much smoother on offense against Wake Forest, which lost at home for the sixth time this season.

“Our flow was better,” Paige said. “We’re rolling right now and I hope we can keep that going.”

Wake Forest coach Danny Manning was upset with the defensive effort, particularly North Carolina’s 50 points in the paint.

“They were able to get good position and get them the ball,” Manning said. “We have to do a better job of guarding your man. There ain’t no science to it.”

The Demon Deacons (9-10, 1-5) shot 40 percent from the floor, enduring a rough stretch in the second half when the Tar Heels used a zone defense to help protect players in foul trouble.

“The zone probably isn’t one of the best defenses for us to go against,” Wilbekin said.

The Tar Heels are 3-0 in ACC road outings for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

“Road games are different, you’re in someone else’s house,” Paige said. “Coach prepares us that way. He gives us a lot of confidence.”

With 150 victories in ACC play, Williams moved into sole possession of fifth place in conference history on that list, breaking a tie with former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins.

It was the largest margin of defeat in an ACC game for Wake Forest this season.

“The challenge is not letting this game affect us in a negative way,” Manning said. “It shouldn’t be too much of a challenge to be ready to go.”

The second half began strangely for North Carolina. Paige picked up his third foul with 19:13 left on a loose-ball scramble, and Tar Heels forward J.P. Tokoto was hit with his third foul seven seconds later while trying to gain rebounding position.

However, Meeks scored the Tar Heels’ first six points after halftime to build a 46-36 lead.

Meeks’ basket in transition pushed the margin to 50-38, resulting in Wake Forest’s second timeout less than 3 1/2 minutes into the second half. The margin grew to 18 points.

North Carolina freshman reserve guard Theo Pinson didn’t play in the second half after sustaining a bruised left foot.

The Tar Heels led 40-34 at halftime, scoring the final four points in a tightly contested 20 minutes. North Carolina shot 53.1 percent from the field before the break.

Wake Forest took its first lead with less than seven minutes left in the half on two free throws from Wilbekin after he stole a pass on a North Carolina fast break.

North Carolina, which avenged a road loss from last season, hit seven of its first 11 shots from the floor before cooling off.

NOTES: North Carolina has the upper hand in Wake Forest’s building, entering the game with wins in 12 of 22 meetings with Wake

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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