Casper Ware sure did his best to put an early scare into fourth-ranked North Carolina.
Ware scored 14 points in the first six minutes on the way to a career-high 29 points for Long Beach State in Saturday night's 84-78 loss to the Tar Heels. Ware hit his first four 3-point attempts and had 21 points by halftime, though he slowed down and didn't manage another 3 as the Tar Heels applied better defensive pressure on him after the break.
"It felt like they were leaving me open and my team needed that boost," the 5-foot-10 senior said of his opening flurry. "I figured, 'Why not go ahead and get mine right now and keep my team in the game?'"
Ware offset a fast start by the Tar Heels (8-2), who scored on their first five possessions and looked sharp out of the gate. But Ware hit two quick 3-pointers, then penetrated to find James Ennis for a layup before following with two more 3s. When he scored on a runner past Kendall Marshall for his 14th point, the 49ers (4-5) and Tar Heels were tied 18-all.
"I thought he was on pace for 60," North Carolina's Harrison Barnes said. "I was very worried, but we just had to defend the ball screen better. I mean, he just came off on fire. You have to give him credit for that. But we had to do a better job getting over screens and just making him put it on the ground and get inside."
Dexter Strickland's perimeter pressure helped slow Ware in the second half, while John Henson blocked Ware's shot in the lane with about 30 seconds left and the 49ers trailing by six.
That was part of a big performance for Henson, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds. Barnes added 20 points as the Tar Heels rallied from a 45-40 halftime deficit to win their second straight game to open a monthlong home stand. North Carolina led by as many as 11 points in the second half, but couldn't pull away and had to keep making plays into the final seconds to secure this one.
Reserve Reggie Bullock scored 15 points for the second straight game for the Tar Heels, including a stretch in which he scored eight straight points midway through the second half. That surge started a 13-2 spurt that helped put North Carolina ahead to stay, with Henson closing the run with a dunk off a feed from Bullock to make it 72-61 with 8 1/2 minutes left.
Henson got off to a fast start offensively, scoring 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the first half. But the longer the game went on, Henson made his biggest impact with his trademark defense by blocking layups — on one, he grabbed the ball with two hands and snatched it away from T.J. Robinson — on three separate possessions in the final 4 minutes. Long Beach State trailed by just six each time.
In addition, Kendall Marshall tied his career high with 16 assists for the Tar Heels, while Tyler Zeller had 17 points to reach 1,000 career points.
Behind Ware, Long Beach State shot 47 percent and outrebounded the bigger Tar Heels 36-34 for the game. Larry Anderson added 17 points and Robinson finished with 12.
North Carolina shouldn't have had any thoughts of an easy victory coming in. Long Beach State tore up the Tar Heels' defense last December, cutting a 17-point second-half lead to two points with about 8 1/2 minutes left before UNC's offense carried the Tar Heels to a 96-91 victory. This season, the 49ers won at then-No. 9 Pittsburgh and cut a 19-point deficit to five with 3 minutes left in Tuesday's 88-80 loss at No. 13 Kansas.
In last year's meeting, Robinson scored a career-high 31 points and the 49ers shot 52 percent with10 3-pointers.
This time it was Ware. Then Anderson closed the first half by hitting a pair of 3s in the final 90 seconds to give the 49ers a 45-40 lead at the break.