John Henson reacts after being injured on a foul by Ashton Pankey of the Maryland Terrapins in the first half during the Quarterfinals of the 2012 ACC Men's Basketball Conferene Tournament.
It's been a couple of years since I started following Twitter during Carolina basketball games, and I enjoy it. Living as I do outside the state, it's a good way to bounce observations other fans and generally increase my feeling of community. I rely on it to the point that I'm on Twitter even when watching the game with friends at a bar – my not-Carolina fan friends just don't provide the proper deference to the game being broadcast. But there are times when Twitter just ruins the experience, and none so more than when John Henson went down five minutes into today's game, clutching his wrist after an Ashton Pankey foul.
For the next fifteen minutes, my feed was nothing but sportswriters describing every nuance of the Carolina bench. Henson leaving the game. Henson returning to take his free throws. Henson signaling to come out, wincing in pain. Talking to trainer Chris Hirth. Going to the locker room. Hirth talking to Roy Williams. Hirth talking to Henson's parents. Henson talking to Williams. Every moment was breathlessly chronicled by people who didn't know anything. And because I don't just follow one writer, I read about every action ten to twelve times. There's an entire stretch of the game that went unobserved because everyone was tracking the facial expressions of the bench.
Now, many hours removed, we do know things. Henson's wrist was x-rayed, and is not broken. He was in a lot of pain trying to grip the ball, and will probably be a game time decision. But, at the time, speculation went wild, culminating in folks breathlessly reporting that they'd lip-read Williams and Mark Turgeon's post game handshake and determined that Roy told the opposing coach that the wrist was broken. Lip-reading. Hell, I can barely understand Roy Williams sometimes when I can hear him.
Henson's absence cast a pallor over what was otherwise an excellent performance by Carolina. UNC had a 14-8 lead at the time of the foul, and Kendall Marshall had already gotten the five assists he needed to surpass Craig Neal's ACC assist record. Marshall was on fire, both passing and shooting. He'd finish with 13 points and 12 assists, heaping four other Tar Heels get to double figures.
One of those was James Michael McAdoo, called to play significant minutes for the second straight game with Henson's injury. He matched his career-high with fourteen points, and more importantly was part of a defense that completely stymied the Maryland frontcourt. James Padgett and Alex Len were both held scoreless, and Ashton Pankey was limited to seven points. The more time McAdoo gets, the better he looks, and as long as Henson's injury isn't serious, this weekend could be very valuable in shoring up his abilities in advance of the NCAAs.
Even more exciting is the fact that the Heels were on fire from beyond the arc, shooting 7 of 15. Now we've already established that Maryland's defense is pretty bad, but the fact that Marshall and Reggie Bullock both found their shooting touches – and even P.J. Hairston drained one of three on his way to nine points – is very promising. The other interesting factor of the game was seeing UNC run a smaller lineup, with Tyler Zeller in a bit of foul trouble after a dubious flagrant foul call. (Zeller left his feet on a Sean Mosley pump fake only to take the Maryland guard to the ground in an effort not to seriously injure either of them. As someone on Twitter put it, that had to be the only flagrant foul call where the offender apologized and helped his opponent up.) The smaller lineup, which at one point had Harrison Barnes and four freshmen on the floor, allowed Bares to play more of an inside game with dribble penetration. He only took two threes, missing both, but scored a team-high 15 points and pulled down seven rebounds.
Through most of the second half, Maryland would make small runs but UNC would always answer, with either good defense (UNC would total eight steals) or opportune three-point shots. Up ten at halftime, UNC never let the lead get smaller than seven, as an increasingly frustrated Maryland team got rougher and rougher, culminating in Bernard Weijs tackling McAdoo to the ground. The freshman got right back up, however, and soon Blue Steel was on the court, mopping up the remnants.
UNC fans now get to wait for further word on Henson's wrist, and worry about a resurgent State team, who beat Virginia 67-64. State is one of the few teams with the size to contend with the Heels, so they'll need another big game from McAdoo, as I'd expect even if Henson plays, they'll limit his playing time to let him heal for the NCAA Tournament. As long as the team is playing like this, however, I'm not sure there's a team in the conference that can stop Carolina. There's still a few willing to try though.