UNC 87 Creighton 73 FINAL
The top seeded North Carolina Tar Heels took on the eighth seeded Creighton Blue Jays in round three of the NCAA Tournament. In a match up of the top two scoring teams left in the tournament, it promised to be an exciting one. UNC received great news early in the afternoon when it was announced that junior forward John Henson would play for Carolina. No doubt a huge weight off coach Roy Williams shoulders and more importantly for the Heels national title hopes. Creighton topped Alabama in the second round in a thrilling game winning 58-57. Meanwhile UNC topped Vermont in their own second round game 77 -58.
The tournament has been full of upsets and one should have been upset of top teams thus far in an exciting March Madness thus far. History was made as number two seeds Missouri and Duke were defeated by number 15 seeds within hours of one another on Friday. This came after top seed Syracuse narrowly escaped being the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 in the opening round. Creighton’s style of play has been compared to that of Duke. The top shooting team in the nation posting a shooting percentage above 50% are also dangerous from beyond the arc. High School teammates Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott face off as McDermott has led a surprising Creighton team that looks like they can compete with anybody.
How it went down: Early in the first half, Carolina started out hot scoring on their first three possessions. Both teams were getting up and down the court early. John Henson was in fact in the starting lineup. Reggie Bullock hit a three for the first Carolina points, a good sign early. With both teams liking to run the floor, and the fact the Creighton is the #1 shooting team in the nation. Carolina would have to shoot a high percentage from the field to get the win.
After a strong start and a Creighton timeout. The Blue Jays came back storming and tied the game at seven four and a half minutes in. A myriad of turnovers and ugly shots by Carolina led to the Creighton run. After exiting after four minutes of play, Henson quickly reentered the game and was hit with a technical foul after a hard foul inside. Henson got in the face of a Creighton defender and the Blue Jays took the lead on the ensuring free throws. Henson looked rusty early and it was obvious his left wrist was still bothering him at least somewhat. Despite the rust and wrist, Henson still delivered six points in the first twelve minutes of the game going 3-5 from the field.
This was a really scrappy game early as both teams were going hard after every loose ball. James Michael McAdoo showed off his athleticism on a steal going coast to coast and laying it in for a three point play. That sparked a 7-0 run by Carolina that energized the crowd and the Tar Heel bench. McAdoo continued to look strong coming up with a blocked shot and another near steal on the next two ensuing possessions.
Kendall Marshall scored eleven points in the games first 11 and a half minutes going 6-6 from the field. His first three pointer extended the lead to ten. Not to pick on Roy’s rotations, but right as Marshall seemed to be entering the zone, Stillman White was inserted into the lineup and Marshall went to the bench.
Carolinas run continued with Marshall on the bench early. Fueled by Harrison Barnes who re-entered the game and scored five quick points extending the lead to 15 with the score 39-24 with five and a have minutes to go in the first. After a foul in which his wrist was hit, Henson was taken out of the game but seemed to display more disappointment with his substitution than the injury. Carolina continued on the attack and extended the lead to 15 at the three minute mark. With Henson out of the game a quick five point run by Creighton cut the lead to ten. Suddenly, the scrappy, tight nature of the game was back. Three straight bad shots by Barnes kept the lead at eight with a minute to go. Carolina went the final 3.5 minutes without scoring and gave up a prime opportunity to blow this thing open.
The score at the half, UNC 43 Creighton 35
In the second half, John Henson was on the floor and immediately blocked a shot with his left hand and showed no signs of any pain afterwords. Two quick baskets put the lead back to 12. Creighton continued to fight back with two quick baskets of their own cutting the lead back down to eight. A third foul on Doug McDermott at the 15 minute mark put the All-American on the bench.
The lead ballooned to 19 before a Creighton three in a balanced offensive and defensive attack. Bullock, Barnes, Henson and Zeller were playing terrific defense. Three players in double figures led by Marshall’s 15 put Carolina in excellent position to win this game. Up 19 with 12 minutes to go, Carolina once again had a chance to blow this one open.
The final ten minutes of the game, the energy remained as high as it was at the opening tip. You were never know Creighton was down 15 by their work ethic or body language. They continued to attack offensively and play tough defense. The lead fluctuated from as much as 17 to as low as 13 for the next five minutes. A comfortable lead, but the game was still in reach for Creighton and this one was hardly over.
The lead remained at 15 at the five minute mark until a big transition three cut the lead to 12. Suddenly, Creighton had some hope, until Harrison Barnes knocked down a three of his own to put the lead right back at 15. Another three on the ensuring possession, Carolina now had it’s largest lead of 18 with just over four minutes to go.
Still the Blue Jays would not go away hitting two consecutive three point shots. Fortunately for Carolina it looked to be too little too late. Even as Creighton got out from down town, they were simply trading baskets with UNC who continued to attack the offensive glass and convert in the half court. Creighton began to press and foul early down 14 with under two minutes to go.
An impressive overall game on both ends of the floor by Carolina. They did a nice job closing out on the perimeter shooters. They crashed the boards, got out in transition and knocked down their FTs. A total team effort as all five starters finished in double digits with sixth man McAdoo finishing with nine.
Key Takeaways: James Michael McAdoo looked strong and it’s obvious he’s brimming with confidence right now. Kendall Marshall continued to assert himself offensively and looks like a different player. Early in the first half a coast to coast drive that saw Marshall seemingly make up his mind at the other end of the court that he was taking it all the way. Reggie Bullock hit his first two three point shots and had a great overall game on both ends of the floor. It appeared in the first half Henson is most limited by his injury on the defensive end of the floor. Henson didn’t seem as active in blocking shots, he often uses his left hand and wasn’t as intimidating of a defensive factor. Offensively he got by and he looked good on the boards. The upcoming three day break will hopefully give that wrist enough time to fully recover. But in the second after a couple of left handed blocked shots and one scoring hook with that hand seemed to dispel that notion.
Player of the Game: It was the Kendall Marshall show in the first half. Marshall was as aggressive offensively as I’ve ever seen him, scoring 13 points on 6-6 shooting to go along with four assists in the games first 15 minutes. He continued with his new dual threat role as not only the games best passer, but a scoring threat as well. It was the Kendall Marshall show in this one, he finished with 18 pts, 11 assists and 4 rebounds.
Looking ahead: It’s off to St. Louis for the Sweet 16 for UNC after a much needed three day break.