UNC Basketball Game Review: Tar Heels vs NC State


UNC 69 NC State 67 FINAL

The top seeded North Carolina Tar Heels took care of the Maryland Terrapins in their opening round game of the ACC Tournament setting up a match up with fifth seeded NC State.  UNC is 2-0 this year against the Wolfpack sweeping the season series between the old rivals.  Carolina headed into this game without knowing if they would have the services of junior John Henson.  The ACC Defensive Player of the Year went down mid way through the first half against MD after crashing down hard on his left wrist.  X-Rays on the wrist were negative and the Heels star entered the game as a game time decision.

Plenty of motivation coming into this one.  Aside from the fact that these two teams just don’t like one another very much.  State is a feisty team this year that can give good team fits.  I’ve contended all season long that this Wolfpack team is better than a lot of people recognize.  They upset Virginia in the opening round of the tournament by playing strong defense, rebounding well and playing effective half court basketball.  State could make a huge statement with a strong showing against Carolina.  A win against UNC would assure them a spot in the NCAA Tournament.  The Heels meanwhile look to continue on their march towards a #1 seed in the big dance.

How it went down: Pre-game warmups solved the mystery of whether or not John Henson would play.  Henson did not join his teammates on the court and was declared out for the game about 30 minutes before tip off.  Roy Williams said he simply did not want to risk Henson in the ACC Tournament with the big dance just around the corner.  Henson will be re-evaluated tonight and tomorrow should the Heels advance to the tournament’s championship game.  Freshman James Michael McAdoo took his spot in the starting lineup after a strong game against Maryland in the opening round of the tournament.

Through the first six minutes of the game it appeared that Carolina coach Roy Williams was going to have a heart attack.  Carolina failed to control the boards and appeared to be missing Henson on the glass and in their interior defense early.  State collected several offensive rebounds and established the pace of the game that they prefer.  UNC was unable to get their transition offense going and their perimeter shooting was off.  The team did not look very patient in the half court early failing to establish Tyler Zeller in the post.  James Michael McAdoo looked good early scoring four of the teams first eight points including a nice catch and finish in transition.

A low scoring game early, through eight minutes State kept the score low and lead the Heels 11-10.  The games pace stayed the same through the next four minutes as both teams scrapped in a tough early battle.  On a side note, these announcers on ESPN crack me up, the national medias been all over the minutes Kendall Marshall has been logging as of late.  At one point about half way through the first half they state “Kendall’s been suffering from some cotton mouth out on the court he’s been playing so many minutes”.  Roy has expressed a little concern, but come on people, cotton mouth?  Seriously?  I “suffered” from cotton mouth every single day out on the playground court.  The cure, a drink of Gatorade when the game broke, the kid will be fine, he’s a 20 year old sophomore in college.  More on this early next week.

Marshall picked up his second foul, reaching in on a slasher in transition.  Roy went with Justin Watts at the point.  I picked on Roy’s rotations earlier today, I like playing without a true point, I firmly believe Watts can defend the point.  But why hasn’t this lineup been trotted out before?  If Marshall’s minutes are a true concern and Stillman White doesn’t inspire enough confidence to give Marshall a proper break, Watts’ opportunity should have came way earlier in the season in my view.

In the final four minutes of the half, State kept it close after a brief Tar Heel spurt (right when Watts was inserted at PG, BTW).  The game was all tied up at 25 at the 2:47 mark.  Through just over 13 minutes in the game, NC State was playing exactly the type of game they needed to in order to have a chance to win.  The pace was slow, they successfully kept the Heels out of their patent transition game.  They were able to compete and keep the rebounding battle close.  And they took advantage of the absence of John Henson.

I hated the rotations at the end of the last games first half.  In this one, Marshall was out due to foul trouble but the rest of the starters were in the ballgame.  Roy Williams went absolutely crazy during a timeout with just under three minutes left in the half.  You could really see the difference early on in UNCs interior defense.  Just Henson’s presence in the paint is a huge defector, without him they aren’t nearly as scary.  Harrison Barnes did a whole lot of nothing in the first half scoring just two points.  At times I had to look for his #40 jersey to make sure he was even in the game.

The half closed out with the Heels playing some sloppy offense on several of it’s last possessions.  With no one attacking or trying to create in the half court the Heels began committing silly fouls and turnovers.  With less than a minute to go in the half with State leading 34-30, McAdoo picked his third foul, without Henson the Heels must have Zeller and McAdoo in the game playing well.

The score at the half UNC 31 NC State 34.  The Heels struggled and did not play their game in the first half.  They were a different team in the second half against MD and needed a similar type of transformation against State.

In the second half, State continued their frisky play and opened the lead up to seven at the 17:40 mark.  McAdoo picked up his fourth foul early and again Roy needed to turn to his senior Justin Watts, this time to play the power forward spot.  CJ Leslie who had a great first half for the Wolfpack looked good early.  As did fellow big man Richard Howell who collected nine rebounds in the games first 23 minutes.  Harrison Barnes finally hit his first FG with 16:40 left in the second half on a three pointer.

UNCs defense continued to give State good looks both inside and on the perimeter.  The Wolfpack proved they are a good shooting team and continued to capitalize on their opportunities the Heels gave them.  The adjustment of playing without Henson inside drew the wing players into the paint and away from the Wolfpacks spot up shooters on the perimeter.  In the paint, Leslie and Howell were able to take advantage of Henson being sidelined for one.  In other cases, McAdoo’s defense left a lot to be desired, where he was strong offensively and on the boards, he was equally as bad defensively.  Of the freshman’s four early fouls, three were of the head scratching nature and should have been avoided.  State lead Carolina by seven 46-39 with 15:56 to go. For a high scoring, fast break team, State was outscoring UNC and had five more field goal attempts at this point in the game.

One of the beautiful things about Carolina is they can fill it up on you in a hurry.  And that’s exactly what UNC did over the next three minutes to take the lead.  Behind Harrison Barnes who finally started to get it going offensively, scoring seven quick points during the spurt.  Defensively the Heels produced some stops by forcing State to take contested perimeter jump shots going with a zone defense.  And just like that, the Tar Heels suddenly had the lead 48-46.  I love the move of going to a zone here with Henson injured and McAdoo out with foul trouble.  The momentum was suddenly in UNCs corner as the Atlanta crowd began to chant TAR-HEELS, TAR-HEELS!

ESPN reported that Tyler Zeller was flexing his right hand and paying attention to his fingers after a battle in the paint.  A Zeller injury with Henson in question would ruin UNC.  Big Z quickly relieved my anxiety by posting up on the ensuing possession and attacking, drawing a foul and looking fine connecting on both free throws.  With 12 minutes left the Heels finally have 50 points and a four point lead.  And just like that, State shakes it off and nails a three bringing it withing one.

Five ties and 11 lead changes through the games first 29 minutes of play.  Foul trouble started to catch up to both teams as State’s depth on the interior was challenged.  Leslie made an amazing finish and was rewarded with a BS call by the officials for Zellers third foul.  Leslie really is an amazing talent and he was having a career game against Carolina on the big stage.  State again briefly had the lead 52-50 with 10:30 to go before Zeller tied it with a layup.  The see-saw, back and forth battle continued and the pressure was on Carolina to gain separation down the stretch.

UNC began to feed Zeller every time down the court and got going with Painter and Williams on the bench in foul trouble and Leslie on the court with three fouls as well.  Again Zeller shows it is him, not Barnes, not Henson, not even Marshall that is the toughest player on this team.  If I were on the sideline I’d have a play call for go to Zeller right the F now and I’d call it every time the opponent went on a run.

The Heels opened the lead up to five with just under nine minutes to go as UNC continued to attack the paint.  A charging foul on CJ Leslie with 8:35 to go made things really difficult for the Pack.  Now with four players with four personal fouls and another two with three, they had to play careful.  State couldn’t afford to take out Leslie who was their biggest weapon offensively.  The gamble killed them early and Leslie picked up his fifth foul and was out for the remainder of the game with 8:03 to go.  A huge blow for NC State their best player and only All-ACC representative (2nd team).  Suddenly the Heels foul troubles were double that for State. After two FTs UNCs lead was now up to six.

State refused to die with Powell grabbing yet another offensive rebound, a big time put back drawing the foul.  With the lead at four 60-56 at the 6:30 mark, the Heels had a prime opportunity to go on a late run and open it up after trailing for much of the game.  UNC no longer had any excuse with John Henson sidelined now that States best player CJ Leslie was out.  The refs whistle continued to make its mark on this game when Zeller picked up his fourth foul with six minutes left.  I found myself wondering which player would foul out next instead of who would score next.

I was impressed all day by the half court defense by NC State.  Frustrated by the fact that the Heels didn’t attack more in the post where they have a clear advantage.  The Pack took advantage and played tough perimeter defense.  State regained life at the 4:40 mark after consecutive baskets and defensive stops.  A steal on a Marshall drive ended in an emphatic dunk and the lead cut to just one point.  PJ Hairston drew a big offensive foul to end momentum and give Roy a chance to focus the team with a timeout.  Just watching, sitting on my couch relaxed with a Gatorade in front of me.  I was exhausted, do I still have time to retract my statements about Kendall Marshall’s exhaustion?  Maybe it is too much to ask someone to play 36 minutes in this kind of game if I can barely handle watching it.

With just under four minutes remaining the Heels held onto a 62-61 lead.  Roy was no doubt telling the Heels to stop settling for outside jump shots and attack the basket with Leslie out and State in foul trouble.  Zeller re-entered the game with four fouls for the final stretch, no doubt State would try to attack him defensively.  Up three, UNC missed a great opportunity in transition when Marshall overthrew an open, streaking McAdoo was would have been primed for a transition dunk.

With under two minutes to go a big dunk in the lane and a drive by Lorenzo Brown finishing and drawing a foul on Barnes tied the game at 66 with 1:30 to go.  Reggie Bullock took a three after State doubled Zeller in the post and Z drew an over the back, ticky tack, should never have been called foul, his fifth.  Now the Heels were without Henson AND Zeller who exited with 29 points, 10 rebounds.  State his 1 of 2 FTs to take a one point lead.  Harrison Barnes attacked down one, slipped, got up and shot the fade away drawing the foul.  He missed the front end at the FT line and Carolina remained down one point.  With 58.6 seconds left Barnes connected on the second FT tying the game at 67.  State called a timeout (thankfully my heart couldn’t take it and I was trying to type this).  An extremely exciting game would come down to a nail bitter finish.  With 51.9 seconds left it was States ball at mid court tied at 67.  State turned the ball over on a dropped pass and they essentially just handed the ball back to UNC.

With 40 seconds to go UNC walked it up.  Got the ball to Barnes who couldn’t get anything and gave it back to Marshall.  Kendall penetrated and nailed a bank shot from five feet.  Justin Watts made an amazing defensive play to steal the ball from what looked like a wide open State player under the basket.  Watts threw the ball away as time ran out in a heads up play.  State retrieved the ball and with 0.6 seconds left got the timeout and would need a miracle to win this one with UNC leading 69-67,  State had to inbound all the way down at the other end of the floor.  Both teams sent out six players before another timeout was called, I could barely take the anticipation just wanting this thing to end with the Heels winning the game.  Up two points in this situation your going to win 99.99999% of the time, but this is March Madness and unless your up by four or more points, nothing is a guarantee.  Desmond Hubert guarded the inbound play (now the Heels longest player with Z and Henson out) the refs reviewed the clock and the time was changed to 1.2 seconds, a world of difference, now State can catch and shoot.  It wouldn’t matter as they never got a shot up and Carolina escaped 69-67.

Key Takeaways: James Michael McAdoo continues to look more and more confident on the court.  And as his confidence grows his athleticism comes out more as his game becomes more natural.  PJ Hairston FINALLY took the ball to the basket and looked good doing so.  Early in the game, he jab stepped, took three dribble and went up strong and laid it in.  It was one play, but sometimes that’s all you need to get your game going.  Reggie Bullock did a nice job defensively again and continues to improve his overall game.  I have formed the opinion that he either wasn’t 100% healthy early in the year.  Or he was really, really rusty.  Bullock is a much more fluid, complete player and I think we’re going to start to see that as this season closes and especially next year.

Carolina was bailed out by States foul troubles in this one. Without Henson, CJ Leslie abused UNC inside.  As good as Zeller is defensively, he’s no John Henson.  Leslie attacked at will today and looked like the superstar many thought he would be and may be becoming in front of our eyes.  McAdoo has some real talent and it’s starting to show offensively and on the glass.  He needs to play smarter on the defensive end, especially if Henson is out for any more games.  Without Henson, the Heels absolutely must have McAdoo playing a lot of minutes and contributing.

Player of the game: In probably 95% of games you have one or two players in mind by halftime.  Here, I had no clue who was going to be my player of the game through the first 28 minutes.  A strong second half by Tyler Zeller in which he once again showed he is the best player on the Heels wins him the honor.  Z’s final line, 29 points, 10 rebounds, at least two of the fouls, probably three were picky, stupid, calls.

Up Next: For the Tar Heels the ACC Tournament Championship game awaits them tomorrow afternoon.  NC State will be watching closely on Selection Sunday and hoping they are included as one of the teams in the field.  With the way State played in this tournament, I would be surprised if they didn’t get into the Tourney.

Box Score:

North Carolina State Wolfpack
Richard Howell, F244-100-03-46121002411
Scott Wood, F351-60-40-001100242
C.J. Williams, G-F201-50-21-202001033
Lorenzo Brown, G386-101-23-3046403316
C.J. Leslie, F299-140-04-6170205522
Alex Johnson, G283-62-30-103210408
DeShawn Painter, C252-70-01-214000045
Tyler Harris, F10-00-00-000000000
North Carolina Tar Heels
Tyler Zeller, F328-110-07-8091001523
Harrison Barnes, F333-122-78-12141004216
Reggie Bullock, G362-71-50-027600215
Kendall Marshall, G335-82-40-00410003212
James Michael McAdoo, F274-60-01-212010249
Justin Watts, G181-40-10-004130232
Stilman White, G30-10-10-000010000
Desmond Hubert, F50-00-00-011000000
P.J. Hairston, G131-50-20-000000122

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