Ugly. But not for us. How else do you go about describing an 18-point win that never even felt that close? (In the second half, at least.) The game opened with vastly undersized and underseeded Marquette doing a lot of little things it would need to do throughout to challenge Carolina in this game - hustling after loose balls, making UNC settle for contested jumpers, bruising their big guys inside and just generally playing physical defense. However, after taking a 10-8 lead near the 8-minute mark, the Golden Eagles apparently forgot that you have to score the basketball to win games, too, as Carolina ripped off a 19-0 run that was part of them outscoring Marquette 32-5 the rest of the way in the first half, and Marquette, to borrow a phrase from our illustrious colleague Bart Matthews, couldn’t hide the broad side of a barn with another barn.
The stats at the half were mind-bottling: Marquette had nearly as many turnovers (12) as points (15), with a FG percentage (20%) that wasn’t far behind. They had zero assists and six different guys on their team took at least one shot and made none of them. They had almost twice as many offensive boards (11) as made shots (6), which, to echo some others on Twitter, I honestly didn’t even think was possible for a team that was actually trying. You get the idea.
A great deal of credit, however, has to be given not just to the Eagles’ ineptitude (for Marquette fans screaming “How hard it is to make a pass into the post??!!”, we understand - we were there last year) but to the Tar Heels’ swarming defense. The Heels smelled some blood in the water and, for once, didn’t let up once they garnered a double-digit lead but continued to smother Marquette. Dexter Strickland did a nice job pressuring Marquette’s ball-handlers as the team dared Marquette to take outside jumpers and altered just about every shot that was taken inside the paint. The 3 blocks at halftime don’t represent the sheer magnitude of brick-laying Marquette was accomplishing in an apparent attempt to build themselves a suitable fallout shelter.
After a halftime apparently spent by Buzz Williams checking flight schedules for their trip home, Carolina was able to run off 3 straight buckets in the first minute and extended their lead to as much as 33 before finally starting to relent some and allowing Marquette to put together a few small runs of their own, though by now it was much too late.
Overall, it’s tough to pinpoint any individual efforts in this one, as the Heels got some nice balance, led by Tyler Zeller’s 27 points and 12 boards (I thought during the game they were showing he had 16??) on a variety of easy shots in transition and cleaning up the boards on offense. Harrison Barnes put up 20 points but took 18 shots to get there, as he really seemed to be trying to impress the NBA scouts in the building all night with an array of off-balance turnaround faders, which was, honestly, annoying to watch. Kendall Marshall did a nice job of looking for his offense early, with a couple of nice buckets during the 19-0 run, and John Henson notched another double-double mostly on cleanup duty around the rim and a few lobs from Marshall. I’m sure Roy didn’t love the rather experimental nature of the offense in the second half, as guys seemed to be taking shots just to say “I wonder if I can do this” rather than trying to further extend the lead. That includes Zeller’s left-handed hook shot, Henson’s perimeter jumpers, most anything by Harrison Barnes inside the 3-point line, and a couple of off-balance jumpers from Leslie McDonald.
With as competitive as the Kentucky-Ohio State game was, UNC will have to tighten the screws up a bit, naturally, but if you can’t get up for an Elite Eight game then you deserve to go home. Things continue to fall the Heels’ way, as they match up much better against the Wildcats than they probably would have against OSU, and a team that was unranked in January now has a very real chance at reaching the Final Four. Unbelievable.
And, of course, the cherry on the sundae of the whole thing: