Wrap-Up: UNC makes free throws, beats Wisconsin
UNC 60, Wisconsin 57
For most of the game against Wisconsin last night, Carolina seemed to be lacking any sort of direction. The Heels were hustling O.K., and they were actually rebounding alright, but especially on offense, they seemed out of sorts. They made a nice second half run to go up nine points, but then allowed a Badger run to bring the game back close. Wisconsin was luckily shooting dismally from beyond the arc, and so UNC went into the half up one point.
The second half was more like two vastly different quarters. The Heels came out a little flat and a 12-6 Wisconsin run put the Badgers up five, which doesn’t sound like a ton of points, until you factor in UW’s dreadfully slow pace and typically efficient offense and defense. At the time, the lead seemed more like 10. Things changed, however, about halfway through the half. Dexter Strickland started playing the most lockdown D we’ve seen all season from any Tar Heel, and he was playing it on Jordan Taylor, the preseason All-American point guard for Wisconsin. Taylor couldn’t even get his hands on the ball some possessions. At the same time, while John Henson continued to pull down boards, we had our first Black Falcon sighting of the year. Harrison Barnes’ body language shifted dramatically from a frustrated, hobbled star to a dominant force. He scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half to help put UNC over the top and able to withstand a late Badgers run. Oh, and how did UNC finally take the lead for good? Free throws, the seeming Achilles Heel of the preseason No. 1 team, weren’t a problem as Carolina hit 16-18 after the break. It was certainly a close game, but a last-second, desperation 3-pointer is what made the final score a 3-point win instead of six.
- Most importantly, the fight seemed to be back after the loss to UNLV. There were stretches of very, very ugly basketball, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get the W, especially in March. Carolina’s non-conference schedule is something of a bear this year, so it’s nice to see the Heels fight through it. The experience will serve them well in ACC play and the postseason.
- Dexter Strickland is both awe-inspiring and maddening at the same time. Watching him just BLANKET Jordan Taylor was a thing of beauty. Taylor was running all over the floor trying to get open, but after Strickland began guarding him in the second half (Marshall did for most of the first) he couldn’t get Wisconsin’s offense operating at it’s usually efficient pace. He stuck a few jumpers and created a steal leading to his signature one-man fast break. He also inexplicably touch fouled on his way to four personals and attempted to drive for a layup against four, yes four, Wisconsin defenders — all of which had a size advantage on him. Love what Dex brings to the team, but really wish his decision making was a little more consistent.
- Barnesbot left the building and Black Falcon entered. As was stated above, Barnes took over offensively in the second half. The mid-range game was working, and he shot 2-3 from beyond the arc. He was also crashing the boards and driving to get fouled, hitting 6-7 free throws. We all know Harrison’s penchant for slow starts, but maybe he got over that with this game. It couldn’t come at a better time with Kentucky looming Saturday. One lapse though, was that Barnes was apparently supposed to be guarding Taylor at the end of regulation, when Taylor got a wide open look for a 3-pointer. Roy understandably ripped Harrison on the other end of the floor. With Wisconsin’s last second heave going in, had Taylor’s shot fallen there would have been overtime.
- Kendall Marshall definitely did not like the slow pace. He threw some of his patented full-court heaves into the hands of red jerseys on several occasions. The Badgers were getting back faster and in greater number than probably any opponent he’s seen in his college career. Over the course of the game though, he seemed to adjust to that and didn’t commit turnovers late.
- John Henson had a mandate on the boards. Something tells me that Ol’ Roy had a little chat with the froncourt after UNC had been outrebounded three times this year, and in particular against UNLV. Henson took it to heart in grabbing a season-high 17 rebounds. He ended up a bucket shy of a double-double, but if he loses a little scoring to grab that many boards then the Heels are better for it.
- Tyler Zeller has disappeared. After dominating — and there really is no other word for it — opponents in prior games, against UNLV and Wisconsin Zeller sometimes seemed out of it. He only took five field goals in the Wisconsin game and six in the UNLV game, and that needs to change. Some of it against Wisconsin was his teammates having a hard time feeding him due to the Badgers D, but for a smooth 7-footer with a nice hook shot to only take 5 shots is criminal. Marshall mentioned that in the second half Barnes “gots that look on his face” and began demanding the ball. Zeller needs to demand the ball more as well. He’s a great scorer, and he should show it.
- P.J. Hairston injured his wrist and won’t be able to play against Kentucky. This is a blow. Hairston was starting to come on and his shooting will be missed on Saturday.
- Roy took his jacket off. We haven’t seen this in a while. Between his BB gun comment earlier this week and now the jacket shedding, it’s clear Roy is fired up this season.
Player of the Game: Dexter Strickland (9 pts, 2 rebs) He didn’t put up much of a stat line, but his defensive effort on Taylor made all the difference in the dogfight. Without Strickland, UNC loses last night.
Stat Stuffer: John Henson (8 pts, 17 rebs, 5 blks, 2 asts, 1 stl) The Big Smile regains his thrown. He also notched his first steal of the season, nice.
Sweet Dime: Marshall’s lob to Zeller. Yeah, he threw a couple of these away, but he connected on a 90-foot, one-armed quarterback bomb in the first half. I taped the game so hopefully I’ll get a video of this up sometime.