Rushed Reaction: #1 North Carolina 87, #8 Creighton 73Posted by mpoindexter on March 18th, 2012
Three Key Takeaways.
- Kendall Marshall likely done for the year. In the midst of another fantastic performance, the sophomore who has lately been the best Tar Heel on the court came down with a scaphoid fracture to his right wrist. Though it isn’t his dominant hand, and UNC said that they don’t know Marshall’s range of motion yet, the medical literature does not offer a good prognosis. Much of the commentary will focus on how greatly this diminishes North Carolina’s odds of winning a title in 2012, but the real focus should be on Marshall, a player who seems as vocally committed to his teammates’ success as any in college basketball.
- John Henson is back, and healthy. After missing the last three games with a wrist injury, John Henson came back to the Tar Heels in full force. Henson was good for 13 points and 10 rebounds plus four blocks. It was Henson’s technical early in the game that sparked a gargantuan run from the Tar Heels, and his team played inspired ball for the first time since beating Duke at the end of the regular season. Henson was still tentative early on using his left hand, preferring to tip the ball to his right hand on a rebound and opting to lay in a ball he normally would have slammed home with authority. But by the second half he was back to his old self, using his left hand to emphatically swat away a Doug McDermott shot.
- Hats off to a great Creighton team. The Jays played hard today, but simply met a team that was bigger, more talented, more athletic. Doug McDermott tried his best, scoring 20 points, but the Tar Heels’ duo of Henson and James Michael McAdoo made life difficult for him. In the end, North Carolina’s players were too fast for the Jays to guard, and the Heels were able to get almost any shot from 10+ feet wide open. Creighton, though, was a pleasure to watch this year. If McDermott sticks around, then there’s no reason they can’t improve upon what was already a fantastic ride.
Star of the Game. Kendall Marshall, North Carolina. Marshall was quiet for most of the second half, but it was his play that initially put the Creighton Bluejays in a hole from which they couldn’t climb out. During North Carolina’s big run in the first half, the Tar Heel point guard scored nine straight points at one point, beating the Jays from inside and out. Marshall led the Heels in points (18), assists (11), and minutes played (36), going 7-of-8 from the floor. Multiple times, Creighton left him open and dared him to shoot, something that worked for teams last year. It doesn’t work any longer. The bad news is that the left-handed Marshall fractured his right wrist toward the end of tonight’s game, making his status uncertain for any games the Heels play for the rest of the NCAA Tournament.
Quotable. “It was a great win for our team, great win for our kids, and it was a team game to say the least. We got help from everybody. But it’s sort of overshadowed by what’s happened to a wonderful young man right now.” – Roy Williams
Sights & Sounds. The Greensboro Coliseum is an easy 45-minute drive from North Carolina’s campus in Chapel Hill, and the crowd for today’s game against Creighton overwhelmingly favored the Tar Heels. Combined, those made for a de facto home game for Roy Williams’ team. The Greensboro crowd, though, may have been so loud and energetic that it was more imposing for Creightonthan if they had played a regular season game in Chapel Hill. Tar Heel crowds at the Dean E. Smith Center have a reputation for being populated by the “wine and cheese” demographic — older donors who prefer to stay seated and clap politely before leaving with five minutes left on the clock. The crowd tonight was more like “beer and nacho cheese,” constantly screaming, jeering, and chanting. If the same people who came out for UNC in Greensboro follow them to St. Louis, the Tar Heels’ opponents are in for a long, loud night.
Wild Card. Who plays the point in Marshall’s absence? UNC head coach Roy Williams said after the game that the duty would go to freshman reserve Stilman White or senior do-everything Justin Watts. Both pale in comparison to Marshall offensively, though Watts is comparable, if not better, as a defender.
What’s next? The Tar Heels head to St. Louis, where they’ll meet the winner of #12 South Florida and #13 Ohio. UNC will have a size advantage regardless of who they play, and would cause huge problems for either team’s middling offense. If Kendall Marshall’s right wrist fracture keeps him from playing, as expected, UNC may be in for a low-scoring dogfight on the Mississippi.