Williams is not one to single out his star players in moments of adversity and place the responsibility for increased performance on their shoulders. This is a team game and therefore the entire team bears that duty.
The ninth-year UNC head coach’s message to every person on his roster is direct and concise: “You’ve got to raise your level of play.”
On Tuesday, Tyler Zeller spoke about Marshall’s passing ability as being what UNC would miss most without the Cousy Award frontrunner. Barnes pointed to his leadership and calming influence. Williams believes his point guard’s absence would hurt in every aspect.
“I think it puts an emphasis on every other part of the game,” Williams said. “We’ve got to step our level up in every area. We have to defend better. We have to rebound better. If we’re not going to get as many easy baskets because Kendall’s not there, then we’ve got to get some more that we have to earn. That’s okay, too.
“Someway, somehow, we’ve just got to figure out how at the end of the game to have more points than Ohio does.”
But as Marshall’s playing possibilities remain unknown, Barnes’s production becomes even more important. Now that John Henson (wrist) is slowly returning to full health, North Carolina’s post tandem of Zeller and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year will draw more defensive attention without Marshall’s recent scoring outburst (12.8 points and 54.4 percent shooting, 50.0 percent from 3, over his last nine games).
Despite Marshall forcing opponents to account for him more offensively over the past month, Barnes’s numbers have dropped. He’s averaging 17.3 points on 45.0 percent shooting for the season, including a 38.2 mark from 3-point territory. But over his last eight games, Barnes is averaging 14.8 points on 37.8 percent shooting (42-of-111), which includes a 25.0 percent effort (8-of-32) from long range.
Barnes struggled in UNC’s first game without Henson against N.C. State 10 days. He appeared to press early, managing just three points and missing all three of his field goal attempts in the first half before closing with 13 points on 3-of-9 shooting after halftime.
Barnes’s best performance over the past month came in the ACC title game as he scored 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting and pulled down seven boards.
When asked if he felt pressure to elevate his play and take on a larger role in the offense due to Marshall’s potential absence, Barnes replied: “Not at all.”
“I think everyone’s going to have to step up,” Barnes said. “Not only me, but we’re obviously going to need more production out of ‘Z’ and John and our bench is going to have to be big for us. We’re going to need James Michael [McAdoo], P.J. [Hairston] and Stilman [White] especially to come out and play big roles for us as we go on without Kendall.”
This article is not to suggest that Barnes is incapable of raising his game or struggles with pressure. If anything, the sophomore All-America has proven throughout his career that he relishes the opportunity of performing in the clutch with a handful of game-winners and a 40-point effort against Clemson in the 2011 ACC Tournaments.
Barnes laid the first brick of his reputation as a cold-blooded scorer in the final seconds at Miami on Jan. 26, 2011. With the shot clock vanishing, Barnes drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing with 6.6 seconds left to give the Tar Heels a 74-71 victory.
“I just feel really comfortable shooting that shot,” Barnes told reporters postgame. “A lot of people might not feel comfortable, they might second guess themselves, but in that moment in time, I just feel comfortable enough in my abilities that I can make the shot.”
The difference now is that North Carolina needs more than just one shot to reach New Orleans. The Tar Heels need a complete game from the Black Falcon.
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