UNC Basketball: Sweet 16 Game Review: Tar Heels vs Ohio


UNC 73 Ohio 65 FINAL

The Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament is now in the books.  The North Carolina Tar Heels took on the Ohio Bobcats.  Coming into this one all eyes are on UNC point guard Kendall Marshall’s right wrist.  Will the Heels floor general play?  His status likely determines the Tar Heels national championship dreams.  But I don’t think he’s needed today against Ohio.  Personally, I’d like to hear that his wrist is improving each day.  That he’s practicing lightly and will dress on Friday but only play if he’s needed to win the game.  Best case scenario is more rest and more improvement.  This is a game Carolina should win regardless of who’s at the point.

The wrist-gate watch will continue as PG Kendall Marshall wore a suit and sat out this one.  Freshman Stillman White started in his place at the point.

How it went down: The Heels started out red hot offensively and got out to a 14 point lead holding Ohio to just eight points in the first 11 minutes of play UNC led 22-8.  The Tar Heels size inside was too much for the Bobcats early.  Defensively UNC started out playing some of the best defense, especially on the perimeter that I’ve seen from them all season long.  The Heels were playing mad, obviously looking to prove the naysayers wrong who said they would be doomed without Marshall.

The Heels shot the ball exceptionally well early starting 11-21 from the field.  The Bobcats got nothing inside early scoring just two points in the paint in the first 14 minutes of play.  Ohio cut the lead below double digits with back to back three pointers around the five minute mark.  As the Heels lead grew they began to drift away from pounding the ball inside and relied too much on perimeter shooting.  Justin Watts struggled at the point committing three turnovers, each of them were on plays Watts was trying to force.  Stillman White looks a whole lot more comfortable in Marshall’s absence.

The Heels led by as much as 15 in the first and probably could have put the game away with a 25+ point lead if not for a number of unnecessary turnovers.   Along with the turnovers, the intensity defensively let up around half way through the first.  Ohio cut the lead to as low as six by playing some of their own inspired defense while starting to connect from beyond the arc.  After dominating the first eight minutes of the first half Carolina took just a seven point lead into the break, after a 11-3 Ohio run to end the half.  A low scoring half that highlighted how badly Carolina misses Kendall Marshall.   Harrison Barnes did not step up the way I envisioned in the first half.  Barnes launched way too many perimeter jump shots and failed to attack the way UNC needs him to with Marshall sidelined.

Score at the half, UNC 29 Ohio 22

In the second half, Ohio’s momentum continued as they immediately nailed a three to cut the lead to just four.  Carolina quickly turned it around with a couple of steals and two quick baskets.  With UNC taking back some momentum, back up to ten, Ohio coach John Groce took a quick timeout just two and half minutes into the second to settle the troops.

Holding a ten point lead four minutes into the half the Heels bad luck on the injury front continued.  Starting shooting guard Reggie Bullock came up hobbling after battling for a defensive rebound and immediately exited the game.  Bullock who suffered a season ending knee injury in his freshman season was seen holding his left knee on the bench.  UNC which has already lost shooting guards Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald to season ending injuries cannot afford another loss on the perimeter.  One things for sure, UNC is due for some good luck after John Henson injured his wrist  and missed three games in the ACC Tournament and Marshall fractured his against Creighton in round 3 of the NCAA Tournament.

Ohio put together a quick 8-0 run to cut the lead to just four at the 15:21 mark.  Carolinas 16 turnovers in the first 25 minutes put Ohio in position to possibly win this game.  Thriving on the drive and kick game, Ohio cut the lead to just one point on another uncontested three pointer.  Suddenly the dominate Tar Heels we saw early in the game were gone.  Ohio started the second half shooting 6-8 with Carolina just 4-12. After seven, second half minutes Ohio held all the momentum.

Harrison Barnes continued to struggle and started just 1-10 from the field.  His body language was horrible and he seemed down and defeated in the second half.  Ohio took it’s first lead of the game at the 8:30 mark after two straight threes to take a 47-46 lead.  UNC immediately recaptured the lead on two FTs by James Michael McAdoo.

Up by just one point 53-52,  Roy called a timeout at the 5:25 mark.  It did nothing initially as Carolina came out of the TO and committed a turnover which lead to a transition three and a chance at a three point play on a Stillman White foul.  Ohio once again reclaimed a one point lead with a chance to make it two at the line.  With just over four minutes left, this Tar Heel was sweating like he was running the point.

Barnes struggles continued as he committed an ugly turnover trying to force a baseline drive.  Up two with 3:35 to go, John Groce took another TO to settle his troops.  But it was obvious to anyone watching, the Ohio Bobcats believed they could win this game.  Conversely, as the game went on, Carolina had the look of a team unsure of how they were going to come out on top.  Ohio converted both FT attempts to extend the lead to four.  The game went back and forth after Barnes tied it up with a big three pointer.  With two minutes remaining the score was tied at 59 all.   Down 61-60 with 1:20 left, Barnes forced a three and hit nothing but air.  Bullock nailed a wide open but deep three with 35 seconds left to give Carolina a two point lead.  After an Ohio timeout they took the ball with 35 seconds remaining, Ohio took it straight at Stillman White drawing the foul and tying the game at 63 with a chance to take the lead with 25.3 seconds left.  He missed the ensuing FT and with the game tied at 63, Roy Williams elected to call a TO after the ball was advanced past half court.  With 15 seconds remaining, the Heels isolated Harrison Barnes who drove and lost the ball, DJ Cooper almost nailed a half court shot that would have won it.  Tied at 63 the game headed into overtime.

In the first OT game of this years NCAA Tournament.  Carolina had five minutes to take this game back.  Bullock nailed a three on the Heels first offensive possession.  Barnes finally hit a FG to extend the lead to five with 2:50 to go.  UNC continued to fail to get the ball inside in the half court and turned the ball over yet again.  Zeller picked up his fourth foul with 1:58 to go in OT.  UNC got the ball back after Ohio tipped a rebound out of bounds.  Clinging to a five point lead with 1:35 to go, Barnes threw an awful inbound pass and Zeller picked up his fourth foul (again, confusion at the scores table which took away one of Z’s 1st half fouls).  After two Ohio FTs UNC lead by three with 1:33 remaining.  In the middle of another awful half court possession, Barnes drew a big foul with the shot clock running down.  After Barnes knocked down both FTs the lead was back to five at 70-65 UNC with 1:01 to go in OT.  After an air ball by Ohio with 45 seconds remaining the Bobcats began to foul with 38 seconds remaining.  Barnes made both FTs to take a six point lead.  After a missed three, Stillman White was intentionally fouled with 23.9 seconds to go.  After White knocked down both FTs the game was over and Carolina won 73-65.

Key Takeaways: I wish someone would have pissed off the Tar Heels earlier this season.  The defensive intensity and execution, especially early in the first half was phenomenal.  Having the nations top scoring attack, most of the attention is on the offensive end for Carolina.  If they can continue this type of inspired, tough defense, the Heels can be even more dangerous than anyone anticipated.

Justin Watts does not look good at the PG position.  Watts who can play pretty much any spot on the floor looks like PG might be his least natural and most uncomfortable position.  Stillman White’s play was worlds better than Watts and a combination of White and lineups featuring no true PG looks like the best option for UNC if Marshall continues to be sidelined.  White impressed me by his willingness to penetrate open gaps and take the shot when he was open.  While the freshman isn’t nearly as talented as Marshall, or any other Tar Heel regular (aside from Watts) but he certainly plays with the confidence of a starting PG.  White did a terrific job defensively on DJ Cooper holding him to just two points in the first half.

Reggie Bullock looked a lot better handling the ball than I anticipated.  With Marshall out, Bullock took on more ball handling responsibilities in the half court and looked good.  With Barnes struggling, I’d like to see Bullock be more aggressive and be a little more selfish in the half court.

The biggest takeaway in this game for me: I could see the Tar Heels of the first eight minutes of the first half beating anybody with or without Kendall Marshall in the lineup.  On the other side of the coin, UNC continues to get way too comfortable when they build a big lead.  Aside from the blowout of Duke in the regular season finale, the Heels have not put together a complete 40 minute game this season.  Still, Roy Williams has to be encouraged by the potential his team showed without it’s most important player.

Player of the game: Tyler Zeller kept his team in the game and played the most consistent basketball for North Carolina.  Scoring 20 points with five big blocks and 19 rebounds in regulation.  Big Z proved he is the most reliable and best player on the Tar Heels roster, once again.  In overtime Zeller collected another four rebounds to secure the win for UNC.

Up Next:  It’s onto the Elite 8 for the North Carolina Tar Heels.  They will play the winner of tonight’s KansasNC State game.

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