Marshall (9-2) entered its contest against North Carolina (9-3) with an eye on a monumental upset, and through the first 12 minutes of play, that looked to be a distinct possibility as the Thundering Herd possessed a 21-17 lead. But the Tar Heels regained control and took a 44-35 advantage into halftime before dismantling their opponent over the final 20 minutes.
Ed Davis led UNC with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Tyler Zeller (18), Deon Thompson (14), Marcus Ginyard (14) and Will Graves (13 points, 10 rebounds) also scored in double figures. Shaquille Johnson scored a team-high 16 points for Marshall.
North Carolina connected on 47.9 percent (34-of-71) of its field goal attempts, while holding the Thundering Herd to 35.9 percent (28-of-78). UNC outrebounded Marshall, 53-34.
INSIDE THE GAME
Easy Ed’s Scoring Machine
The label attached to Ed Davis this preseason contained words such as “defensive specialist” and “shot blocker.” But if you were lucky enough to find an offensive word detailing his talents, it was most likely “liability.”
There’s no doubt that the smooth Virginian is lacking the fluid finesse of Deon Thompson or raw power of Tyler Hansbrough, but what he has done in recent weeks is display an aggressive approach that blends well with his knack for garbage buckets.
Over his past three games, Davis has connected on 62.9 percent of his field goal attempts (22-of-35) en route to averaging 20 points per outing. Toss in 29 rebounds and 12 blocks and you have the makings of an emerging force when ACC play rolls around in less than three weeks.
“Coach has been telling me that I’ve got to be aggressive,” Davis said. “We don’t have Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson or Wayne Ellington or Danny [Green] any more, so everybody’s going to have to be aggressive and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
What stood out on Tuesday is that Davis delivered when his team needed him the most – trailing 21-17 in the first half. After a Marcus Ginyard dunk, the sophomore forward scored eight of UNC’s next 10 points to reclaim the lead at 29-27.
Davis also proved that he can in fact run the floor as a big man in the old-fashioned Tar Heel way.
“I thought Ed was really impressive,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “Ed got two baskets tonight running, which I think may be the first two that he’s had in a year-and-a-half.”
A Run of Their Own
This column has bled numerous lines of text over the past month on the bludgeoning runs of North Carolina’s opposition, beginning with Syracuse’s 25-3 spurt and ending with Texas’ 23-7 mark, with Kentucky’s 28-2 run stuck squarely in the middle. So it’s only fair to compliment the Tar Heels on their 18-0 game-changing jaunt out of the second-half gates against Marshall.
UNC ended the first half on a high note, following a Graves’ 3-pointer just shy of the buzzer, heading into the locker room with a 44-35 lead. But the Thundering Herd scored four quick points to start the final stanza, leading many in the Smith Center to believe this contest would be interesting until the final minutes.
But instead, the Tar Heels elected to live up to their preseason hype, combining a stingy defense with a transition offense to blow this game wide open. That five-point lead just forty seconds into the second half quadrupled over the next 11 minutes to 72-48. Less than four minutes later, the margin had swelled to 37 at 89-52.
“We were just patient out there,” Ginyard said. “We were running our sets and executing. But we were just playing hard out there. We ran through our stuff harder. On defense, we were talking more. We were moving harder on defense getting to our spots. That energy and that intensity just carries over with your focus, you concentration and everything is just clicking at that point.”
Skeptics may point to the fact that this opponent was picked in the middle of the pack of the lackluster Conference USA, and rightfully so. But even against the Presbyterians and N.C. Centrals of this ’09-10 schedule, UNC has been unable to put together this complete of a run. That alone makes this display noteworthy.
“It’s just one of those opportunities to see how good you can be when you’re working hard and you’re hitting on all cylinders,” Ginyard said. “I think this came at a great time for us to do this and to play hard and to see glimpses of how good this team can be when we execute like that.”
Holiday Musical Chairs
North Carolina’s rotation drew serious interest as soon as the lineups were announced prior to Tuesday’s tip, thanks to David Wear’s first career start over Graves. Three minutes and thirty seconds into regulation, Williams subbed in Dexter Strickland, Tyler Zeller and Graves.
Five more substitutions would occur before the 10-minute mark of the first half arrived as a total of 10 Tar Heels took the court.
Williams admitted during his postgame press conference that paring down the rotation has been harder than he originally expected.
“Guys haven’t stepped up,” Williams said. “That’s the bottom line. It’s not about coaching decisions. Guys have got to play. I have never in my life – never – played favorites. If you play the best, you’re going to play the most, and so guys have got to step up.”
Ten players played nine or more minutes against Marshall and Ginyard (31) was the only Tar Heel to play more than 25 minutes.
“I can play nine guys and be really comfortable,” Williams said. “And sometimes I’ve even played 10. It’s hard to play 12.”