North Carolina Basketball: UNC survives and advances to the Elite Eight

If I was told that UNC would commit a season high 24 turnovers and that sophomore small forward Harrison Barnes would shoot 3 for 16 while not having sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall, a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, in the line up I would think that a loss would be the final tally. Instead, top seed North Carolina (32-5 ~ 14-2 in the ACC) was able to take down No. 13 Ohio (29-8 ~ 11-5 in the MAC) 73 to 65, even if the Heel needed overtime to do it. This was the first OT game in this season’s tournament, and if the Bobcats had won this game there would be no post saying it was luck, as Ohio, after being down by 15 points early on, came out swinging hard for the rest of the game against Carolina. For head coach Roy Williams and his team this is all about “survive and advance” and while there is no doubt this was an ugly one, it is still a win, the 11th Sweet Sixteen win in a row for UNC.

“We feel like we got away with one,” Zeller said. “Ohio played the better game, they hit a lot of shots. I think we just were able to make a lot of plays at the end that made us capable of pulling it out.”

Freshman point guard Stilman White, who filled in for Marshall, did exactly what most wanted him to do: not be a liability. In the 32 minutes he was on the floor the floor general got six assists and no TOs, and while he did take a couple of shots that coach Williams didn’t like, overall the young man did just fine in this one. Along with him there was senior center Tyler Zeller, who had a heck of a game with 20 points and 22 rebounds, nine of those points being second chance points, which was more than the opposition had altogether. For the seven footer this is the 14th time that he has lead the team in scoring, the 15th time he has lead the team in rebounding this season and the 20th time that he has had a 20 points performance while donning the carolina blue. The other big for the Heels, junior John Henson, also had a double double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. It was his 18th this season and 37th of his career in Chapel Hill. In all, inside UNC did what they had to do, grabbing 30 more boards than Ohio in all and 11 more on the offensive side.

In the back court Reggie Bullock had a great game with a double double, the second of his career, of 17 points, a career high 10 rebounds and five assists, and it was his performance late in the second half and in OT that helped the Tar Heels get the win. You could say that the off guard’s trifecta in the beginning of the extra session set the tone for UNC. However both Barnes, who as I said previously just was not in the groove for most of the game, but getting 5 of his dozen points in over time, freshman P.J. Hairston, who just played eight minutes and senior Justin Watts did not “step it up” as expected in this one. Between the three of them they almost had half of the committed turnovers with 11. On the other side of the spectrum Zeller and Bullock accounted for just over half of the scoring for Carolina. On the defensive side the Heels were able to keep D.J. Cooper under control, as he scored 10 points, but Walter Offutt and Nick Kellogg went 10 for 15 from treys, and Carolina just could not stop them.

In a post on ESPN there is this by Bullock and it might just explain why the sophomore was fired up…

North Carolina sophomore Reggie Bullock was playing defense near Ohio’s bench with somewhere around 12 minutes left in regulation when he overheard a Bobcats assistant coach say it:

“They can’t win without Kendall Marshall.”

And boy, that made him mad.

“That just got to me, for someone to say that my team can’t fight, can’t win without our starting point guard,’’ said Bullock, usually one of the most mild-mannered members of the team. “That lit a fire under me.”

Without a doubt North Carolina will have to have a much better game on Sunday when they take on No. 2 Kansas, who defeated N.C. State 60 to 57 in the late game in St. Louis, if they want to head to the Final Four. The last time the two squads met was in the 2008 semi finals, when the KU took down UNC and went on to win the national title two nights later, and most of the fan base remember because of coach Williams wore a Kansas sticker at the final. The questions until then will be, of course, will we see Marshall back on the court, as well as if we will ever see the old Barnes sooner or later. Until then, after this game, let’s be happy that we can still be looking forward to the Tar Heels still playing in this tournament.