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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Wounded Heels limp past Bobcats, face precarious future

Posted by on Sat, Mar 24, 2012 at 12:05 AM

Bullocks icy shooting kept UNC out of the morgue
TBS — This isn’t the North Carolina team we expected to watch this season, before experienced shooter Leslie McDonald tore his ACL last summer. It isn’t the one we did see until Dexter Strickland suffered a season-ending knee injury in January. It’s also not the one we observed before John Henson sprained his wrist in the ACC Tournament and has hobbled him ever since.

And it’s certainly not the one we saw dismantle Duke in Durham early this month, before Kendall Marshall fractured his wrist last weekend against Creighton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

So this compromised, ragtag and yet still very talented team closed its eyes and endured a potential nightmare against Ohio tonight. The Heels survived a harrowing second half— falling behind after building an early 15-point lead — to prevail 73-65 over the Bobcats and advance to the Elite Eight on Sunday.

Harrison Barnes came this close — I mean, this close — to becoming infamous for an epic choke on the big stage. Pundits everywhere called for the Black Falcon to soar in advance of this game, resuming the heroics he displayed last season, but Barnes shot just 3-for-16 and committed five turnovers. He did recover in overtime, however, knocking in a jump shot and critical free throws to help push the Heels to victory.

Tyler Zeller enjoyed a quietly spectacular game, if that’s possible. He racked up 20 points and 22 rebounds along with four blocks, but he did commit six turnovers and generally struggled to get inside position during the second half.

Tonight’s star arguably was Reggie Bullock. The sophomore scored 17 points and added 10 rebounds and five assists, and his three-pointer to open overtime proved to be the decisive moment in the game. He demonstrated the poise that Carolina mostly lacked throughout the final 30 minutes of the game.

Next up is the winner of Kansas and N.C. State. Roy Williams sounded skeptical during the postgame that Marshall would be able to play on Sunday, and even if he does, he won’t be the passing and scoring machine he has been of late. The Heels did win a game without him and thus should be more prepared in terms of what to expect, but they should be considered the underdog against either opponent.

Nevertheless, they live to compete another day. Click here to view the UNC/Ohio box score.

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