At some point we are going to have a discussion about not digging the double digit hole to start the game. However all the credit in the world goes to UNC for not folding up because it would have been easy to do so on no less than three instances. In fact, I think the point where Virginia Tech asserted a 52-47 lead was possibly a bigger test of team toughness than the first half deficit. There is much more in the way of game pressure brought to bear in the 2nd half than the 1st. UNC, despite having suspect offense and being a work in progress apparently has the tough win mentality down pat. Which is an interesting note when you consider how teams develop. The 2007-2009 team had major issues with toughness and closing the deal in 2007 but overcame it to win their share of tough battles the remaining two years. It would appear the 2011 team exhibits toughness but lacks consistent offensive production in particular. At some point UNC will have the on-court performance to match the toughness and then we will be looking at a solid team. Until then there will be days like this.
Jumping right into what went right, Kendall Marshall played what arguably may have been his best game as a Tar Heel. Foul trouble for Larry Drew opened the door for Marshall to receive a clear majority of the playing time(24 mins vs 16 mins.) Marshall made the most of it collecting nine points, nine assists and zero turnovers. It would seem this constitutes the best evidence to date for the anti-Larry Drew crowd to point at. The impressive stat line does not really convey the degree to which the offense was simply better with Marshall running the point. Then again, UNC offense will likely continue to be a dicey proposition, just less so with Marshall. Roy Williams maintains(doing so again in the postgame press conference) that there is a significant gap between Drew and Marshall on defense with Drew having the edge. So much of that rests with how Roy and his staff analyze the defense picking up on issues which escape the layperson. In other words, you sort of are forced to concede the point here since there is no way to prove Roy wrong. The problem is a night like this one where the offense sputters under Drew but excels under Marshall. Roy puts the premium on defense but the offensive struggles are so profound you have to wonder whether take a slight hit on defense might not be worth it.
Then there was Harrison Barnes who quite frankly sucked for most of the game, could not stop turning the ball over(six total) and left me scratching my head as to why his game has turned out to be so mediocre. That is until he dropped eight points down the stretch, including two threes when UNC needed buckets. I am not ready to call it a break out moment because I thought the same thing when Barnes had a seven point run versus Kentucky. It does offer hope and the assurance that Barnes is capable. You have little choice but to watch how well Barnes played in the final minutes and think, "If only he could put a whole game together like this!"
The play of John Henson and Tyler Zeller was huge. Facing a tough zone which UNC had major issues(again) piercing, when the Heels finally got a handle on it Zeller and Henson did excellent work. Henson in particular found a way to squeeze himself into the limited space offered by the zone and score. Henson also got six points on three dunks, one of the alley-oop, one on a putback and the other coming down the baseline off a pass from Marshall which gave UNC their first lead since being down sixteen. The Dean Dome was rocking.
Yes, UNC got by with a grind it out, character win. The Heels also got by in part to the Hokies' lack of depth and an injury to Erik Green. Roy's liberal subsitution pattern paid off to a certain degree. UNC was the fresher team down the stretch. The defense, despite the outburst from Malcolm Delaney, was pretty good. Delaney got little to no help from his teammates. One player rarely beats you by himself and UNC did a good enough job on everyone else contain the damage done by Delaney. Marshall's defense on Delaney at the end of the game is about as good as you can ask. His best bet was to keep Delaney in front of him and force the senior guard to settle for a contested three. That is what happened. Delaney missed the shot, Marshall made two free throws and the Heels are 2-0 in the ACC.
This team continues to be a work in progress, especially on offense. This team also operates with a tremendous amount of chemistry as well as an ability to stick with it even while the opposing team is opening up a significant lead. The more often it happens, the more confident this team gets when faced with adversity. Ideally you hope to never be in that position. Unfortunately there are no quick fixes to the issues that plague UNC most. However the resiliency of this group is a great place to start.