CHAPEL HILL — Reggie Bullock went through dark, difficult times after he suffered a season-ending knee injury late into his freshman season at North Carolina.
But his performance here at the Smith Center on Saturday night, when Bullock sparked the Tar Heels key second-half run during their 84-78 victory against Long Beach State, provided further proof that he has rediscovered the confidence that went missing after his injury. Bullock has scored more points than he did on Saturday.
He finished with 23 earlier this month in a lopsided victory against Tennessee State. Most of the 15 points he finished with against Long Beach State (4-5), though, came when No. 4 UNC (8-2) most needed them. The Tar Heels trailed by six about three minutes into the second half.
Then Bullock made a 3-pointer one of his three 3s that ignited a 22-8 run that put UNC in control. Afterward, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said, Reggie was huge.
Hes a youngster thats gone through a lot of tough times and Im really pleased for him today, Williams said.
Asked whether this was Bullocks best game during his collegiate career, Williams said, Probably so.
It was needed a heck of a lot more than some of the other [good] games that hes had, theres no question about that, he said.
Bullock made the initial 3-pointer to start that decisive run, and then he added another 3 to put UNC ahead 57-55. After the 49ers tied the game on their subsequent possession, Bullock came through again this time with a medium-range jumper.
He added another 3, which broke another tie, with 11:05 to play. That one put UNC ahead 62-59 and the Tar Heels never trailed again.
An official timeout came with 10:50 to play, after Bullock had scored 8 consecutive points. During that timeout, the UNC student section closest to the Tar Heels bench began serenading Bullock with a chant in his name: Reg-gie, Bul-lock! Reg-gie Bul-lock!
Bullock afterward seemed less impressed with his performance than his coach was. Bullock called it a confidence builder.
My teammates just trust me, he said. And when they pass me the ball they expect me to knock it down.
While Bullock carried the Heels in the middle of the second half, John Henson led them down the stretch. He recorded another double-double, and finished with a team-high 24 points and 10 rebounds. He blocked four shots, including a few in the final couple of minutes that helped preserve a 6-point lead.
Harrison Barnes finished with 20 points for UNC and Tyler Zeller added 17. With his first points, he became the 64th player in UNC history to score at least 1,000 points in his career.
I was very happy to get it out of the way early, said Zeller, who added that his teammates had razzed him all week after he failed to cross the 1,000-point mark in a blowout win against Evansville last week.
The most impressive player on the court, though, might have been Long Beach States Casper Ware. The senior guard finished with 29 points 21 of which came during the first half. Ware carried the 49ers during the first 20 minutes, especially early when he scored 14 of the 49ers first 18 points.
Bullock said Ware was the fastest player hed ever tried to guard, and said trying to keep up with Ware was like trying to keep up with a little mouse. But Bullock proved difficult to keep up with, too especially when it mattered most.
My confidence is here, he said. Ive still got a lot of work to do to be able to show my full talent. I think its like Im still showing [a] glimpse.