When talking with the Herald-Sun‘s Harold Gutmann, Kendall Marshall said that Roy Williams brought former Tar Heel Shammond Williams who asked the team, “Has anybody ever explained to you all how to manage a game? You know, how to win a game?” Marshall’s response: “And as weird as the question sounds, no.”
There’s no doubt that people are going to misinterpret this quote. Some will use it to condemn Roy Williams’ coaching; some will go farther and use it to say that Marshall condemned his coach. Neither is particularly valid. Shammond Williams’ talk with the team can only make sense after the Duke game.
Closing out games with fairly comfortable leads isn’t easy. You’re facilitating what should happen, so people take it for granted. But North Carolina is far from the only team to struggle with closing games this year: watch a Duke game with the Blue Devils up 10-15 points towards the end of the second half. The Blue Devils’ games against Washington and St. John’s are extreme examples but showcase Duke never putting its opponent away.
You can talk about not turning the ball over, using the full shot clock and avoiding empty possessions all you want in practice or from your couch. But until you have that team breathing down your neck, knocking down big shots and pressing you with everything it’s got, you’re still just talking.
Closing out games–especially against good teams–is very difficult. Generally, you’re using as much of the shot clock as possible, taking your team out of its offensive rhythm. Even the defense is different: never foul; it’s better to give up a semi-contested two than an open three or shots from the free throw line. This is why you won’t see me ripping Roy Williams or North Carolina for not knowing how to close games. It’s an experience. What matters most is how the Tar Heels learn from that experience going forward.