Tyler Zeller shoots the ball as Ohio Bobcats forward Reggie Keely (30) defends during the second half of the semifinals in the midwest region of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament.
I knew the team would struggle without Kendall Marshall. I knew Ohio was good at generating turnovers. And I knew UNCs half court offense was going to struggle.
I had no idea it would be this bad.
And at first it wasn't. UNC stumbled a bit, but they kept getting out on the break, and Tyler Zeller and John Henson were dominating the paint. But the Bobcats adjusted while Carolina just sort of self-destructed. Down 15 at one point, Ohio closed out the first half with an 11-3 run, all while their leading scorer D.J. Cooper was held to two first-half points. And while UNC started the second half with a little momentum and an 8-2 run, Ohio finally hit on an offensive scheme that worked — D.J. Cooper penetrating and kicking the ball out, or spacing out the defense enough to get an open three or an easy look to someone under the basket. Ohio made seven of their first nine threes of the second half, and they finally took their first lead of the game with 4:36 remaining.
Where was Carolina during all of this? Forgetting how to move the ball. Zeller was having a monster game — he'd finish with 20 points, 23 rebounds, and 5 blocks — but his last shot came with 9:44 on the clock. Ohio realized what a lot of teams have, if your smaller you can just pack the lane and abuse Zeller with impunity when he doesn't have the ball. Not that Zeller helped, with his tendency to bring the ball down to Ohio's level, resulting in six turnovers. Denied their best scorer, and with Henson still shying from contact with his weakened wrist, the Tar Heels turned to... Reggie Bullock?
Yes, Bullock had a career game, almost all of coming after the twelve-minute mark of the second half. He hit five threes, including a key one with UNC down one with 42 seconds to play. He would score 17 points, grab 10 rebounds, and have 5 assists, one steal and a block. He truly saved this team from near certain disaster tonight, and at times seemed to be the only player on the floor outside of Zeller who had any idea what was going on.
This, of course, leads to the obvious question — where was Harrison Barnes? After a week of everyone and their brother making the sage analysis that the team would need Barnes to step up, he was practically invisible. The sophomore made only 2 of 15 shots in regulation, turned the ball over five times, and spent most of the game being the weak link on defense, as Nick Kellogg (14 points) shot over him for much of the first half, and Walter Offutt (26) for a lot of the second. And yet, with fifteen seconds remaining and the game tied after a missed Offut free throw, the ball was put in Barnes' hands.
And although a lot of fans would have preferred to see the ball in Zeller's hands there, it wasn't going to happen. The Ohio defense was perched on him; inbounding from near half court, the ball would have to go to someone who could create their own shot. That left it to Barnes, who got the ball at the top of the key, dribbled a few seconds off the clock, drove to his left... and lost his grip on the ball, which caromed into the hands of Offut. Overtime.
In overtime, Barens redeemed himself somewhat. Bullock hit the go-ahead three for the team, but Barnes would score the next five points, putting the game away for good. But frankly, Ohio did more to give Carolina the win in the extra five minutes than the Heels did. The Bobcats launched four threes in overtime, all from well behind the arc, and missed each and every one. UNC allowed them no offensive rebounds; Ohio didn't have a chance.
As for Stilman White's performance, he did what he needed to do. Ball movement was shaky, and he in no way dominated the flow of the offense like Marshall does, but he got the ball up the court and did a decent job on defense for the most part. (D.J. Cooper, the guy he most often defended, had as poor of a night as Barnes hitting only 3 of 20 from the field.) Whit would have six assists and no turnovers, while Justin Watts in relief had one assist and three turnovers. White's only points would be off free throws in the closing seconds of overtime, but it was a respectable showing. He shares the court with three first-team All-ACC players; he should only need to do so much.
Barnes, on the other hand, is going to have to do a lot more if this team hopes to survive the weekend. I strongly doubt that Marshall will take the court on Sunday, and Zeller can't shoulder this load by himself. This was not a performance that gives anyone confidence that UNC is long for this tournament. If Barnes continues to be invisible, things wil get ugly very, very quickly.