Matt Poindexter is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the UNC-NC State game in Chapel Hill Thursday night.
After Dexter Strickland tore his ACL in the North Carolina’s win at Virginia Tech last week, many Tar Heel fans worried Roy Williams wouldn’t be able to fill the junior’s spot as starting shooting guard and backup point guard without a severe disruption. Reggie Bullock would likely move into the starting lineup and Stilman White—a freshman usually relegated to playing at the end of blowouts—would see more important minutes as Kendall Marshall’s primary backup. Other names were tossed around: Could Harrison Barnes be a point-forward? Former UNC star Eric Montross thought Justin Watts, the team’s all-purpose reserve, should run the team when Marshall needs water breaks. Williams even suggested the Tar Heels may go without any point guard at all sometimes. “We’ll be looking for anything else we possibly could have,” Williams said. But for this Tar Heel team, “anything else” means more than just rearranging the depth chart. Kendall Marshall is taking a mind-and-body approach now that Strickland isn’t available. “One thing I’m trying to do different is work on my breathing throughout the game. I’m not letting my highs get too high in my emotions because that can really take the energy out of you,” Marshall said after Thursday’s 74-55 win over North Carolina State.
Instead of simply playing White more, Roy Williams is trying to surround the young point guard with as much offensive firepower as possible when he steps onto the court. In previous games, White most often played with UNC’s inexperienced second team or with walk-ons in the waning minutes. Against NC State, White had Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes to pass to when he entered with 12:34 left in the first half. When White relieved Marshall again with 4:28 to go in the half, he joined Zeller, Barnes, John Henson, and Bullock on the floor. By substituting with White at those moments—each just before a media time out—Williams orchestrated longer rests for Marshall.