It all starts with PG Marshall for No. 5 Tar Heels
Kendall Marshall has made himself fifth-ranked North Carolina’s
most irreplaceable player.
The sophomore point guard is second nationally in assists,
averaging 9.8 per game. He’s been the perfect floor leader for
coach Roy Williams’ fast-paced attack with his see-everything court
vision and precise passing that make the fifth-ranked Tar Heels hum
He’ll need to be on his game for the Tar Heels heading into
Wednesday’s rivalry game with No. 10 Duke.
It was about this time a year ago that Marshall took over as
starter for Larry Drew II, who quit the team days later. The Tar
Heels (20-3, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have gone 37-6 with him
since, though they have little depth behind him after losing junior
Dexter Strickland to a season-ending knee injury last month.
”They said that last year with losing Larry: is it more
pressure?” Marshall said with a laugh. ”Now we lose Dexter: is it
more pressure? If they start putting too much pressure, I don’t
know if I’m going to be alive.”
The Tar Heels have plenty of potential NBA talent in Harrison
Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller. But it’s difficult to imagine
how the Tar Heels would look if Marshall was hurt or on the bench
with foul trouble.
He can dominate play despite taking only a handful of shots,
from the way he protects the ball against pressure to his deft
touch on pitch-aheads to teammates who have beaten defenders down
Marshall, averaging 6.5 points, is playing about 34 minutes in
ACC games. Williams uses the only true backup – 6-foot freshman
Stilman White – for brief stretches just before media timeouts to
give Marshall as long of a break as possible without keeping him
sidelined more than a few plays.
In last weekend’s win at Maryland, Marshall played the final 7
1/2 minutes with four fouls and went on to tie his career high with
16 assists in the 83-74 win. It marked the fifth time he has
tallied at least 15 assists in a game. No other UNC player has
managed more than one in program history.
Bill Guthridge coached some of the program’s best point guards –
Phil Ford and Kenny Smith, to name two – as the longtime assistant
to Dean Smith and Smith’s successor for three seasons as head
coach. He sees similarities between Marshall and Ed Cota, the
pass-first point guard who set a school record with 1,030 assists
and finished his career in 2000 ranked third in NCAA history behind
Duke’s Bobby Hurley (1,076) and North Carolina State’s Chris
Corchiani (1,038), according to STATS LLC.
”It was really fun to coach Ed Cota and it was amazing how he
could get the ball to the right person at the right time,”
Guthridge said. ”I think Kendall is the same way – and Kendall
might even see up the floor better.
”He sees the court so well, all 94 feet of it. He amazes me
with some of the passes that he makes. He doesn’t make very many
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski sees the same thing.
”When Bobby played here, for all you who can remember, he got a
lot of assists in transition,” Krzyzewski said. ”And I think
that’s where Kendall is different than any other point guard in the
country. He can really pass ahead. And not just a pass ahead for
somebody to make a move. He’s made the move for the guy with the
pass. With the runners that they have, you can get a lot of
Marshall’s 9.8-assist season average is three more than
second-place Lorenzo Brown of N.C. State, and it’s on pace to
shatter Cota’s single-season record of 8.1 per game in 2000.
Despite spending the first half of his freshman season splitting
minutes with Drew, Marshall is already 11th in program history with
456 assists and has as many double-digit assist games as Ford
He also ranks second nationally in assist-turnover ratio at
”I think the coaching staff and my teammates have put me in the
position to be very successful,” Marshall said. ”My teammates do
a great job of finishing plays. There are plays where I may hit
John seven feet from the basket, and with his length, he can turn
that into a layup. There are places I give Harrison the ball and
he’s able to hit tough shots, so I in no way take full credit for
Maybe not, but there’s no denying the change since Marshall took
over. A team coming off an ugly 20-point loss to lowly Georgia Tech
went on to chase down the Blue Devils (19-4, 6-2) and win the ACC
regular-season title before falling a game short of the Final
Barnes said the biggest difference in Marshall is been-there,
”He doesn’t have to worry about `Oh, am I going to go out here
and make the right play?’ He’s done that a million times,” Barnes
said. ”He’s been on that stage for clutch games, being in the NCAA
tournament, going to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. I think he’s
much more poised. He goes out there and he knows exactly where to
get to his spots and how to make those plays.”
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Durham contributed to this