North Carolina's John Henson dunks during the Nov. 11 Quicken Loans Carrier Classic aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier Carl Vinson. The first basketball game aboard an active flattop featured North Carolina and Michigan State, and was watched by 8,111, including President Obama and basketball Hall of Famers. (MC2 James R. Evans / Navy)
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NAVAL BASE CORONADO, Calif. — The massive aircraft carrier Carl Vinson can carry more than 80 combat aircraft and a crew of about 5,000 and, by any measure, is one of the most intimidating and powerful components of U.S. military might.
The North Carolina Tar Heels, who opened their season Friday on a temporary court on the flight deck of Vinson for the inaugural Quicken Loans Carrier Classic, look like they might be pretty intimidating and powerful, too.
North Carolina, ranked No. 1, appeared worthy of the rating in a 67-55 defeat of unranked Michigan State in the historic outside game organized to honor the nation's active and retired military on Veterans Day.
The Tar Heels return all five starters from the team that lost to Kentucky in an NCAA Tournament regional final last year.
Three of them scored in double figures Friday, with forward Harrison Barnes leading with 17 points. Forward John Henson scored 12 — with nine blocked shots and seven rebounds — and guard Dexter Strickland added 10 points and five assists.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who wore combat fatigues and boots on the sideline, improved to 6-0 against Michigan State as North Carolina's coach.
He said he wore the military garb "because I wanted to say to the military people, ‘We want to be like you.' " More than half of the 8,111 people in attendance were active or retired military.
"It was a wonderful experience," Williams said. "It was a thrill for me."
Both teams got to meet President Obama before the game. Barnes said he was surprised that Obama, who sat with first lady Michelle Obama courtside during the game, seemed to be pretty well-informed about the Heels.
"He was like, ‘OK, Harrison, you gonna hit some threes?' " The answer to that was yes, two of them.
The shooting and the general feel of the game was seemingly affected little by the conditions — a slight breeze, temperatures falling into the high 50s late in the game.
"It was fun," Henson said.
Michigan State, in rebuilding mode, was led by forward Draymond Green, who scored 13 points and led both teams with 18 rebounds.
But Green missed 13 of 19 shots, and overall Michigan State shot a nightmarish 30.6 percent from the deck.
Michigan State's promising 6-6 freshman guard Branden Dawson made four of his 10 shots to finish with 10 points and added seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals. He looks like a good one.
North Carolina, while outrebounded 49-34, shot 50 percent in the first half and 47.1 percent for the game.
North Carolina led by 11 at halftime and extended the lead to 20. With a 59-39 lead about halfway through the second half, everything looking mighty shipshape.
"Then we made three of the dumbest plays we've ever made," Williams said.
Although the Heels limped to the finish, they flashed a fair bit of what they hope will be a national championship-caliber squad.
Imagine the possibilities when they get off the boat and play a game in a gym.
"I saw some things that I can show them and say ‘We can't do that,' " Williams said. "I also saw some things that were good."