John Henson reacts after blocking the inbounds pass late in the second half before the Tar Heels defeated the Washington Huskies 86-83.
Inbounding the basketball can be a difficult thing. It's especially so coming out of a timeout, when the defense has had time to get set; that's why a lot of the winners of tight games this postseason have let things ride in the waning seconds after the other teams score, while squads like Princeton are sent home when their opponent has time to put a body in front of the ball. Roy Williams knows this, and it's why all season he's had John Henson guard the guy taking the ball out.
Which is how with seven seconds remaining and UNC clinging to a one point lead, Henson came out of the Huskies' final timeout to stand on his own baseline, with his arms above Justin Holiday, the 6'6" wing inbounding the ball. I don't know who Lorenzo Romar intended to take his team's final shot, because that player never got the opportunity; the inbounds pass was deflected by Henson into the arms of Harrison Barnes. By the time Washington was able to foul, five seconds had elapsed and Dexter Strickland was headed to the line to clinch the game. UDub's fate was sealed as soon as Henson hit that baseline.
Not that Washington didn't have enough chances to win the game earlier. The Huskies went on a 12-0 run early with a quick succession of threes, leading UNC to panic and respond with quick outside shots of their own that were off the mark. Once the team settled down in a timeout and retook the lead on a series of Zeller-led fast breaks, they gave up another run, and went into the half down one. They were outplayed worse than the score indicated, especially on the boards. Washington went with a lineup change and started 7'0" Aziz N'Diaye, and it paid off on defense and the boards. N'Diaye would pull down eleven as well as hold Zeller scoreless from a halfcourt offense in the first half, but it took its toll. The UDub big man picked up his fourth foul at he 10:28 mark and his team up two, and by the time he returned almost eight minutes later, UNC would be up four and Zeller would be the game's leading scorer.
There were a lot of things UNC did well in this game. They kept the turnovers in check, and Kendall Marshall set a UNC tournament record for assists with 14. Dexter Strickland also had an impressive game, surpassing the Huskies' guards in speed on his way to 13 points and 5 rebounds, all while holding Isaiah Thomas to 5 of 15 shooting. There was more panic from this team than I would have liked, often sending me unfriendly reminders of the tournament collapse against Georgetown in 2007, but this is a young team, and I'd rather they have these lapses now than in games their talent can't rescue them from. And i anyone can explain Henson's actions in the last four seconds –interfering with a ball hurtling out-of-bounds and nearly goaltending an errant final shot – I'd love to hear it.
Despite these problems, however, UNC survived and advanced, on an afternoon when so many high seeds didn't. This includes Syracuse, falling to conference-mate Marquette and sparing the Heels at least one pernicious zone defense. Carolina continues on to Newark and a double-digit seeded opponent, a good sign for a team mired in a tough bracket.