North Carolina (31-5) and Creighton (29-6) exchanged early blows before a technical on John Henson sparked a 9-0 run that opened up a 20-12 lead for the Tar Heels. That margin grew to 15 points before the Bluejays closed with a 7-0 spurt to enter halftime down 43-35.
The Tar Heels outscored Creighton 18-7 during the opening six minutes of the second half to increase their lead to 61-42. The Bluejays fought back to within 12 points with 5:21 to play, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Harrison Barnes (17 points) pushed UNC’s lead back to 18 points.
Marshall (18 points, 11 assists) fractured his wrist when he fell to the ground after being fouled by Creighton's Ethan Wragge at 10:56 in the second half, and used his right hand to brace his fall. The sophomore point guard played seven more minutes before subbing out for good with 1:54 to play.
John Henson posted a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) in his return after missing three games with a left wrist injury, and Reggie Bullock (13) and Tyler Zeller (11) also reached double figures.
Doug McDermott led Creighton with 20 points on 8-of-19 shooting. Gregory Echenique scored 12 points and pulled down six rebounds, while Antoine Young and Josh Jones both added 10 points.
North Carolina shot 50.8 percent on 33-of-65 shooting and held the Bluejays to 41.2 percent on 28-of-68 shooting. UNC outrebounded Creighton, 44-35.
The Tar Heels will play No. 13 seed Ohio on Friday in St. Louis.
INSIDE THE GAME
There was plenty of talk leading up to this matchup about Creighton’s position as the top shooting team in the country with a 50.7 field goal percentage, but not as much conversation centered on what head coach Greg McDermott termed as a “bend, but don’t break” defense.
North Carolina did an effective job of breaking that defense in running out to a 15-point first-half lead. The Tar Heels connected on 15 of their first 20 field goals, including a 3-of-5 mark from long range.
UNC missed 10 of its final 13 shots of the first half and still managed a 54.5 percentage for the opening 20 minutes.
“They got off to a really good start,” Coach McDermott told reporters during his postgame press conference. “They were hitting shots and we didn't have too many answers.”
Creighton, on the other hand, struggled to find an offensive rhythm due to North Carolina’s length and active play on the perimeter. McDermott, an All-American forward, found it difficult to operate in the post with Henson and James Michael McAdoo rotating off him and only attempted four 3-pointers, making just one.
The Bluejays entered the game as the nation’s No. 3 3-point shooting squad (42.5), but missed seven of its first nine treys. Creighton finished with the game with an 8-of-20 mark from long range, but made five of those 3-pointers after falling behind 19 points with 14 minutes to play.
If there was ever a doubt that Creighton would target Henson’s injured left wrist, Grants Gibbs provided confirmation with 13:44 left in the first half. Henson drew a foul on Ethan Wragge in the post as Gibbs was sliding over for the double team. Gibbs made more contact with the wrist than the first-team All-ACC forward thought was necessary, prompting Henson to get up close and personal with the Creighton guard.
Henson was immediately hit with a technical foul and Gibbs responded by winking at the Creighton bench. The junior guard’s actions made it YouTube in less than 20 minutes.
“It might have been what he was trying to do – a cheap shot,” Henson said when told of Gibbs’s wink. “I don’t know what can happen from here, but I’m just glad people saw why I got so upset.”
Regardless of the intent, the altercation fueled Henson to a dominant defensive performance and a solid offensive showing that included 13 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and a steal in 28 minutes.
“He makes a huge impact,” the younger McDermott said. “His length, his athleticism, and the way he runs the floor brings a lot to that team. And he had a heck of a game, blocked a lot of shots and got a lot of respect for him and a pretty good debut for the NCAA tournament for him.”
Henson’s wrist is still not where he wants it to be, but he’ll have five days to rest it before Friday’s Sweet 16 contest.
“It was a little weaker than I wanted it to be, and I wasn't as strong with the grip as I wanted,” Henson said. “But, hey, we got the win and that's all can you ask for.”
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