Marshall set to lead UNC against Duke
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — 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 in transition.
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
“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 the court.
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 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 bad passes.”
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 (16).
He also ranks second nationally in assist-turnover ratio at 3.42.
“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
Barnes said the biggest difference in Marshall is been-there, done-that confidence.
“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.”