Carolina began the contest in extremely sloppy fashion, falling behind by 16 points; for a team that struggles to score, that’s a massive deficit. But thanks largely to the efforts of freshman point guard Kendall Marshall — who notched nine points, nine assists and no turnovers — the Heels were able to surge late and make the most of late second half possessions.
The 24-hour period following the game largely pertained to the point guard issue. Starter Larry Drew was pulled in the second half in Marshall’s favor, a move that was considered overdue almost unanimously among the fanbase and national analysts. The statistical evidence is mounting increasingly in Marshall’s favor as the season proceeds, and his play is likely to make Roy Williams’ life that much more difficult.
For his part, after the game Williams again was hesitant to stress the point guard switch as a predictor of his future actions. Williams has said repeatedly over the years that he prefers to set a starting lineup at the beginning of the season and maintain that group if at all possible, but the gap between Marshall and Drew is getting wider, not narrower. Unlike the Texas game last month, when with Drew in the game the Heels blew a late lead and suffered a very damaging loss, this time he played the hot hand (Marshall) owing to the importance of the club’s conference home opener.
Freshman Harrison Barnes also provided late heroics, after playing one of his worst games of the season prior to the closing minutes. He finished with 12 points on 5-for-11 shooting and committed six turnovers, but he knocked in a couple of late threes to push UNC over the top.
John Henson also was a key factor. He amassed 17 points on a hot 8-for-10 shooting and eight rebounds, along with four blocks. Tyler Zeller enjoyed another solid outing, going for 16 points and nine boards. The frontcourt dynamic has become clear; Zeller provides the consistency, while Henson is the spark capable of igniting a run.
The Tar Heels hit the road again on Sunday evening, traveling to woeful Georgia Tech for a winnable conference road game. As I mentioned last weekend, if Carolina can finish at least 3-3 in its ACC contests and 6-2 at home, the club’s entrance into the NCAA Tournament will be assured.
To view the UNC/Virginia Tech box score, click here.