If there is anything we learned in Friday night's NCAA tournament game, it's that winning doesn't come easy for North Carolina without their prized point guard Kendall Marshall. UNC had to take Ohio to overtime, winning 73-65 to advance to the Elite Eight.
Without Marshall, North Carolina lacked their trademark tempo. They had to take the time set plays—it was rare they scored with 20 seconds or more on the shot clock. If UNC advances far enough to get Marshall back, having to set plays may make them better. After all, slowing the Tar Heels down is how teams have beaten them.
It was a win, but it wasn't pretty by any means. The Tar Heels were constantly getting stripped, leading to 24 turnovers as a team. Players had to create too much and it was easy pickings for the Ohio defense.
I could pick apart the whole game and knock Carolina for everything they did wrong, but I'm not going to. They had to play without one of the best point guards to don the Carolina blue. And even as a 13 seed, Ohio is no easy win—just ask No. 4 Michigan and No. 12 South Florida.
What I will do, is break down exactly how they got it done without their floor general.
Alright, let's go ahead and get this one out of the way. It doesn't exactly give credit to Carolina for what they did, but I know I will get blasted if I don't mention it.
The North Carolina defense did an outstanding job on the inside. Not only did they snatch four steals, they also blocked eight shots on the night. However, the perimeter defense was as poor as ever.
Ohio missed shot after shot in the first half, allowing UNC to build a lead as large as 15 points. They weren't even being contested beyond the arc. Carolina players would get trapped in screens or fail to make the switch, leaving wide open shots for the Bobcats.
Ohio shot 32 percent from the floor and was 12-of-32 from downtown. Seven of those three-pointers came in the second half. Had they shot better in the first half, the story may have had a different ending.
North Carolina certainly doesn't count on Kendall Marshall to dominate on the glass, and dominate, they did. The Tar Heels finished with 56 rebounds to Ohio's 26—only four more than Tyler Zeller.
Everyone was flying to the boards. It wasn't just John Henson and Tyler Zeller.
Three Carolina players reached double-digits in rebounds. That includes 10 from guard Reggie Bullock. Henson added another 10 and Zeller snagged 22 himself. Harrison Barnes finished with seven.
It was an impressive day on the glass, and that's one way for UNC to stay in the game without Marshall.
Many analysts still gave North Carolina the edge against Ohio because of their pure talent. Even without Marshall, there are plenty of playmakers and a handful of lottery picks.
Ohio gets great play from their backcourt, but their frontcourt was just no match for the Tar Heels. It's a daunting task to go up against Henson and Zeller. Few teams have stopped them, and most have to rely on the outside game to bury UNC.
As soon as Ohio started getting some stops on the inside, Barnes and Reggie Bullock were there to knock it down on the outside. It's just not easy to beat this much talent—ask anyone that has to play the Miami Heat.
That said, I will go through the difference-makers of the game.
I don't think I'll cause too much of an uproar when I say that Stilman White is nowhere near the talent level of Kendall Marshall. White may not be gifted with outstanding athletic abilities, but he has the fundamentals down—and that was enough to produce a win.
White doesn't create much of anything on the offensive side of the ball. He simply serves as the centerpiece for ball movement, rarely dishing out a pass on the move.
What he does is play mistake-free ball. White didn't give up a single turnover for a UNC team that had 24 on the night. As a matter of fact, he only has five turnovers in the 168 minutes he has played thus far.
Though he doesn't get the ball up the floor like Marshall, he does have good vision.
White also did a great job on defense, staying in front of Ohio's D.J. Cooper and frustrating him the whole game. He also grabbed a steal on the night.
The only bad part of Henson's game was his free-throw shooting. He was only 2-of-6 from the line, but the rest of his game played a big part in the win.
He “only” had two blocks on the night, but one of those came at a very crucial point in the game. Ohio was leading 57-53 with 3:40 to go when Cooper picked off lazy pass from Zeller. He had what looked to be an easy fast-break layup, but John Henson got down the court in a hurry to block him from behind.
Momentum was already swinging in the direction of the Bobcats, and that layup may have been the one to put Ohio over the top—after all, the game was tied at the end of regulation.
I've heard quite a few Carolina fans complain about Henson shooting the outside shots. I never had a problem with it—and I definitely didn't in this game. Henson sank a few very big shots from deep. At the 2:39 mark, Henson knocked down an 18-foot jumper to tie it up at 59.
Henson had a great game, and it sure was nice to have him back.
I do have some issues with Barnes' shot selection in this game. On multiple occasions, he drove in the lane completely out of control and was stripped or blocked—or lucky enough to be bailed out by a foul.
That was the only aspect of his game I had a problem with. The rest was exactly what I was hoping for from the sophomore forward.
Barnes only had 12 points, but made the shots down the stretch that Carolina desperately needed.
With 3:27 to go in regulation and Ohio up four, Barnes drove into the paint and got fouled. He was good on his first shot, but missed the second. Zeller tapped the miss out to Reggie Bullock, who passed it to Barnes to bury the three and complete the four-point play. That play tied it back up at 57.
Barnes scored five of North Carolina's 10 points in overtime. He also finished the game with seven rebounds and four assists—doing his part to make up for the loss of Marshall.
Barnes had a good game in the final minutes, but the Tar Heels will need him to shoot better to have a chance against Kansas.
If there was anyone that kept Carolina in the game down the stretch, it had to be Bullock.
Bullock was 5-of-10 from three-point range, and knocked down two very crucial threes in the waning minutes of the game. His three-pointer with 42 seconds on the clock put Carolina up 63-61. He was also the first to score in overtime, burying a three just 30 seconds in.
Bullock filled up his stat sheet on this night. Not only did he hit clutch threes, he also dished out five assists, grabbed 10 rebounds, one steal and one block.
This was probably the best game I have seen from Bullock. If it weren't for Zeller, I'd probably have Bullock as the game's MVP.
You really couldn't ask for more from Zeller on Friday night. The only thing I would have liked to see is the rest of the team feeding him the ball. He should have gotten it at the end—not an out-of-control Harrison Barnes.
The Carolina big picked up the first 20-20 game of his career, scoring 20 points and snatching 22 rebounds—eight of those were on the offensive glass. He also shot 8-of-14 from the floor.
Most of his points seemed to come off rebounds, though. I don't know why they weren't feeding Zeller the ball. They moved it around a lot on the outside, but rarely fed the beast in the paint. He didn't have a single attempt in the overtime period.
Zeller also led the team in blocks, with five on the night.
It's tough to argue with a 20-20 game, so Zeller is my MVP for the game. If they want to have a chance against Kansas, they have to find a way to get it inside to Zeller. I shouldn't be able to count on one hand, how many trademark hooks he shot in a game.