Quick Hits: UNC survives Wolfpack scare
Take that, Big East.
The Atlantic Coast Conference’s No. 1 seed got all it could handle from the fifth-seeded N.C. State Wolfpack, but the upset was not to be. Both teams were forced to juggle players all game due to foul troubles—with North Carolina losing ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller and N.C. State losing ultra-talented C.J. Leslie—but the Tar Heels made the one shot that it needed down the stretch for a 69-67 victory.
The shot, fittingly, was taken by the one player who felt he had the most to prove in this tournament. That more appropriate question: What’s next for North Carolina’s stud point guard?
Where to start: It’s probably best to start at the finish, as All-ACC, er, very good point guard Kendall Marshall made the game-winning shot as he cleared out space for himself and banked in an eight-foot shot with 10 seconds remaining.
It was a big moment for a guy not known for scoring the basketball, but when the game is on the line Marshall is one of the few guys on this team that can legitimately create his own shot. Zeller was out. Barnes was given the ball in isolation yet failed to shake Lorenzo Brown, so he kicked back out to Marshall who took t upon himself to drive to the left block and send North Carolina to the finals.
The first team All-ACC snub set the conference’s single-season assist record in North Carolina’s first game, and now he's hit a game-winner in the second game. What’s his encore?
Go-Go Gadget NCAA implications: John Henson is a cog in this North Carolina team that too often goes unnoticed. His defensive prowess earned him the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year honor, but his effectiveness and altering the makeup of games was evident in this one.
North Carolina’s forntcourt was in foul trouble the entire game—James Michael McAdoo sat with four fouls for an extended period and Zeller fouled out—and Williams could have used an extra body, needless to say one as talented as Henson.
There has been no word on the extent of the injury.
The Tar Heels need their big man back, or all of a sudden what many consider the best frontcourt in the country may suddenly be shallow.
N.C. State has a player that looks like the best player on the floor at all times, and recently he has played like it. C.J. Leslie—a very popular topic this weekend—has done nothing but improve his NBA Draft stock throughout the ACC Tournament and is a lock to make the All-Tournament team. He even led his team to one of the more impressive runs at this tourney so far— two team wins, took an assumed No. 1 seed to the wire, set the stage for an NCAA bid.
Then came a charge call. Then came a foul at the other end on a Harrison Barnes drive. Before anyone in Phillips Arena knew the implications, Leslie was on his way to the bench with five fouls, arguing the whole way there. The calls were questionable from my angle (the foul on Barnes looked like a sure block), but Leslie has to figure out a way to keep his head in these games if and when N.C. State makes the NCAA Tournament.
Leslie finished the game with 22 points and seven rebounds. He scored 61 points total in three ACC Tournament games, including 29 rebounds and three steals.
Somebody might be bumped out of a projected lottery slot next week, but how the Wolfpack fare in the next month will be predicated on how far its star forward can carry the load.
Don’t forget about me: Lorenzo Brown needs to play in the NCAA Tournament. Actually, we need to see Lorenzo Brown in a tournament setting. The NBA-caliber guard took over with back-to-back baskets with C.J. Leslie on the bench with five fouls. That type of leadership and big-shot ability make guys like Brown a necessity for March Madness.
He said after the game he knew he had to take over when Leslie went out. “Big players make big plays in big situations,” he said.
Let’s give this guy the biggest situation at this level: the Big Dance.
Who flipped the light switch?: It might be on, it might be off, you never know. Harrison Barnes’ involvement and aggressiveness in a game fluctuates like the tides and it was on full display in this game. If he played in the first half, few people noticed unless he made a poor decision. It was that quiet of an opening 20 minutes. Same goes for the start of the second half as N.C. State began to build a lead.
Then, let there be light.
Barnes began using his body to muscle his way into the paint to chip away the Wolfpack lead and get to the foul line. Then, his second 3-pointer went down at the 13:46 mark, the N.C. State lead was gone and the pro-UNC crowd fell apart. Barnes had scored eight points in the span of three minutes.
Barnes largely disappeared down the stretch, but his team nonetheless walked away with the win. With Zeller and McAdoo in foul trouble, and Henson on the sidelines, the Tar Heels needed more out of Barnes in this one.
That light switch might want to be in the ‘On’ position a bit more as the stakes get higher.
Sorry, Mike Scott: The ACC voters made the at least one correct decision this year. Tyler Zeller proved Saturday afternoon that he deserved the conference’s player of the year nod. Zeller was, at times, North Carolina’s only consistent offensive threat as he abused N.C. State’s big men en route to 23 points and nine rebounds.
Zeller did foul out and the absence of his usual running mate, Henson, was apparent from the beginning. But, in a tense game, the senior center was so extraordinarily efficient in the low blocks and his scoring paced the Tar Heels in a second-half comeback over its fierce in-state rivals.
The Tar Heels are in the finals, and they're bringing a deserving player of the year with them.