John Henson lays the ball up in front of Ethan Wragge #34 of the Creighton Bluejays in the first half during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
Want a clear demonstration that parity has yet to fully arrive in the NCAA? Creighton came into this game 5th in the nation in offensive efficiency. 1st in effective field goal percentage. 6th in defensive rebounding percentage. 32nd in fewest free throws allowed.
Against Carolina, they shot 41.8% from the floor. They were out rebounded 43-34. They hacked the Heels relentlessly, taking advantage of a lightly called game. And they were never closer than eight points in the second half.
The big news as tip-off approached was the return of John Henson. UNC announced early in the day that he would play, but it wasn't until right before tip-off that they adjust the lineup to have him start. He won the tip and rarely slowed down, scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 28 minutes, despite Creighton going after his weak wrist a lot. One particular hard slap from Blue Jays guard Grant Gibbs drew Henson a technical foul for his reaction. He went to the bench another time after a hard hit on the wrist, and he was held out towards the end of the game to prevent further injury. It's obviously still a concern, but this was a very promising start.
Henson was soon overshadowed by Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock's shredding of Creighton's suspect defense. Marhsall had 13 of his 18 points in the first half, slashing to the basket every time the Blue Jays' attention lapsed. It didn't slow his ball distribution however – he would still have 11 assists. Bullock waited until the second half to catch fire, draining seven quick points at the start of his period on his way to 13. Unfortunately, Marshall went down after another hard Creighton foul, and may have injured his right wrist or hand. He continued to play, but soon, but left with about four minutes remaining as the pain was progressively worse and the game not in doubt. Stillman White could handle the point guard duties just fine by that point. As I type this, however, Twitter is saying Marshall's right wrist is fractured – the scaphoid bone to be precise. (Link from Andrew Carter) No one knows if he will play next week, but it doesn't seem likely.
UNC's defense was alternately lax, giving up a lot of backdoor layups, and brutal, as the team recorded nine blocks. The guards did a good job of defending Creighton from the three, although they would hit 8 of 20. And they did it with Tyler Zeller spending a lot of time on the bench in foul trouble in the first half. As for the hyped Harrison Barnes vs. Doug McDermott matchup, it was pretty much a draw. McDermott scored 20 points to Barnes's 17, much of which came late for the Carolina forward. In fact the Tar heels had 34 points before their most heralded player got a bucket. But when Creighton clawed back to within twelve late in the second, it was Barnes who buried two threes of consecutive trips down the court to put the game out of reach.
All in all, it was a great game for the Heels, but one the may become infamous amongst Carolina fans for Marshall's wrist injury. Everyone's still pretty raw about it – Williams and Marshall were both red-eyed – and I'm trying not to dwell about it until we hear more. Injuries have decimated this team this year, and they've persevered. I can only hope they do so against the most serious obstacle to date.