Even with Marshall dressed in a suit on the bench, North Carolina played up to its No. 1 seed in matching Kansas blow-for-blow early. There were 13 ties and eight lead changes in the first half alone as both teams shot over 56.0 percent from the floor. UNC’s 63.6 percent effort was its second-best shooting half of the season and highest mark since Nov. 22 against Tennessee State.
John Henson sprained his right ankle and exited the game with 11:05 left before halftime with UNC holding a 26-23 advantage. His four-minute absence allowed the Jayhawks to use a 17-7 run to build a 40-33 lead. The Tar Heels responded with a 14-5 spurt before a last-second lay-up by Elijah Johnson tied the game at 47.
The lead changed hands five more times during the first eight minutes of the second half. Harrison Barnes (13 points) stepped to the free throw line with a chance to tie the game at 68 with 3:58 to play, but made just one of two. Elijah Johnson (10 points) answered with a 3-pointer on the other end to spur the game-ending 12-0 run.
James Michael McAdoo led UNC with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Tyler Zeller posted 12 points, six rebounds and four blocks in his final game in a Tar Heel uniform. John Henson added 10 points and four points, despite needing a pain shot and numbing cream on his left wrist before the game.
Stilman White (4 points, seven assists, zero turnovers) turned in another solid performance with Marshall sidelined due to his right wrist injury.
Tyshawn Taylor paced Kansas with 22 points and Thomas Robinson added 18 points and nine rebounds.
North Carolina shot 43.8 percent (28-of-64) for the game after missing 24 of its 31 second-half attempts (22.6 percent). Kansas connected on 46.0 percent of its field goal attempts.
INSIDE THE GAME
Defensive Switch Flusters Heels
After a grueling out-of-sync effort against Ohio on Friday, the Tar Heels flourished in the first half against a Kansas defense ranked third nationally in field goal percentage defense.
UNC cooled off to start the second half, but still connected on five of its first 13 field goal attempts. The Tar Heels led 61-60 after a pair of McAdoo free throws with 12:05 to play. They would make just two more field goals – one in the final 8:34 -- score just six points in totaling 20 second-half points, topping the previous season-low for points in a half by five (25 vs. Wisconsin).
Credit Kansas head coach Bill Self with switching up his defense scheme to a triangle-and-two, a look that North Carolina has not seen all season long.
“We played it the last eight or nine minutes of the game,” Self told reporters during his postgame press conference. “They got some open looks. Fortunately they didn't knock them down. And then sometimes when you get an open look, you don't knock it down, you think a little bit, and that's kind of what it does. But we were able to keep the ball out of their bigs hands and take away their two shooters.”
Barnes indicated that the challenge of the triangle-and-two was that help defense was always present. The sophomore forward pointed to one play where he got Travis Releford in the air on a pump fake and by the time he had taken one dribble, the point man was already on him. Barnes said the triangle-and-two was not on UNC’s scouting report.
“Obviously, we wanted to pound the ball inside to John and ‘Z’, but they were just packing it in,” White said. “It’s something we haven’t seen all year, so it was all a little bit new to us.”
The most surprising development, however, concerning the triangle-and-two occurred during Roy Williams’s press conference.
When asked if Kansas had made the switch to the triangle-and-two, and if so, what effect the defensive switch had on the game, the ninth-year UNC head coach responded: “I know they did for one possession, and they may have for a second possession. I'm not sure about that. We got a very good shot. It just didn't go in the first time, and then again, I'm not sure if they were actually in it the second time.”
Williams may want a redo on that question, especially considering the amount of criticism likely headed his way.
Marshall’s Absence Not the Deciding Factor?
Various media members wrote North Carolina off on Saturday afternoon when it appeared as though Marshall would be playing one-handed in a best-case scenario. That contingent increased in size when news broke on Sunday that the sophomore point guard would be unable to play.
"If I did play, I wouldn't have been effective,” Marshall said in explaining the decision. “If I'm just standing off to the side catching and passing... It was a struggle. So maybe with three or four more days, maybe I could have been able to help the team, but I can't really catch and pass right now."
No one gave Stilman White much chance of replicating his Friday night debut performance of six assists and zero turnovers against Ohio. The freshman, in stirring fashion, played even better against the Jayhawks in posting four points, a career-high seven assists and zero turnovers.
When asked how well he thought he had played, White replied: “Not well enough.”
But White played well enough in Marshall’s place for North Carolina to win. The Tar Heels just faltered in other areas where they had to find success.
The nation’s top rebounding team lost the board battle against Kansas, 41-35, including an 11-8 differential on the offensive glass. A more glaring issue was UNC’s 2-of-17 effort from 3-point territory. The Tar Heels missed their last 14 treys, including all 10 attempts after halftime.
The 11.8 percent mark from long range stands as the school’s worst-ever in a NCAA Tournament game.
Role Players Step Up
North Carolina’s bench was unproductive for a significant stretch of the season. In the four games following Dexter Strickland’s season-ending ACL injury in January, the Tar Heels reserves were outscored 80-42.
But ever since John Henson injured his left wrist against Maryland in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals, the bench has elevated its play.
With Marshall, Strickland and Leslie McDonald watching from the bench, McAdoo, Justin Watts and P.J. Hairston joined White in providing valuable minutes from their secondary roles. UNC’s bench outscored Kansas’s bench, 23-4, after scoring 34 points in three previous NCAA Tournament games.
McAdoo, of course, was the primary factor, but Watts improved on his Friday play to score five points, force two steals and deliver a positive assist-to-turnover ratio (2:1) in his backup point guard role. Hairston’s shot wasn’t falling, but he added three points, three rebounds and two assists against one turnover.
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