Seven seed my #%$.
There is an interesting process we, as fans, go through when evaluating how our team plays in games. During the season and even through the conference tournament we look at it in terms of team development or attempt to read tea leaves for the NCAA Tournament. Once you get into the Big Dance that evaluation goes from viewing the team through a forward looking lens to look at it as a freaking awesome NCAA Tournament win. UNC survived, they made some big plays and survived to play in the Sweet Sixteen. Nothing else really matters because whatever happens today will have no bearing on what happens the next time the Heels take the court. Momentum is built with every new weekend of play and this is no different.
This was an impressive win. UNC got a huge game from Kendall Marshall who buried the memories of his poor play in the ACC Tournament. Marshall finished with 13 points and 14 assists which broke Kenny Smith's UNC record for assists in the NCAA Tournament. Tyler Zeller led the scoring with 23 points versus a very tough and physical Husky frontline. Zeller also was a perfect 7-7 from the FT line. Harrison Barnes dropped 22 points, hit four threes and came up with a couple of solid defensive plays, one of those coming after he had committed a turnover on the other end. Dexter Strickland played possibly his finest game as a Tar Heel. He made great decisions on offense, took what the defense gave him and scoring. However on the defensive end he did an incredible job chasing Washington star Isaiah Thomas. Thomas ended up with 14 points and eight assists but shot poorly and only had two attempts from three. Thomas came in shooting 35% from beyond the arc. Strickland made it difficult for him to run the offense. John Henson was clearly bothered by the physical nature of the Husky frontline and was only 4-12 from the floor missing a ton of gimmie shots near the rim. Henson did have two huge blocked shots and a tipped inbounds pass to help matters but unnecessarily endangered the win by touching an airball shot from half court giving Washington one last shot. Then Henson went up and touched the ball as it was near the rim on a shot at the buzzer. Not a good day for Henson in general save a nice stretch of showing why he was the ACC defensive player of the year.
What made this win impressive is how scary a matchup Washington was for UNC. Like me, you were probably annoyed with folks picking Washington in a third round upset over UNC. It became the trendy pick but it was for a reason. Washington had athletic size on the interior and solid guard play. As the how game played out, Washington pretty much did everything they needed to do to beat UNC. They dominated the boards 40-33 and had 14 offensive rebounds to UNC's 12. The Huskies were a ridiculous 10-19 from three adding themselves to the long list of teams who have come in with their hair on fire when it comes to perimeter shooting versus UNC. At one point, Washington went on a 12-0 run in the first half which included three straight 3-pointers. That is when UNC's toughness showed up as the Heels worked their way back into the game.
At several points throughout the rest of the game, Washington would claw out to a 2-3 possession lead and UNC would rein the Huskies in. The most crucial point was with the game tied at 69. Washington scored five straight to staked a 74-69 lead with seven minutes left. The Heels went on a 15-4 run over the next five minutes. Marshall hit four free throws and a layup in that run. Barnes dropped in a layup and three pointers, both shots assisted by Marshall. Strickland capped off the run with a layup assisted by Barnes. With UNC facing a deficit two Tar Heel freshmen took the game over, hit big shots and put the Heels in position to win the game. The one caveat here is Marshall and Barnes did not quite close the deal. Barnes missed two shots late and Marshall missed the front end of a one-and-one with the Heels up only one. However UNC does not win the game without their play in that five minute span. Like they have for half a season now, Marshall and Barnes continue to come up big when the Heels need it most. The bottom line is UNC played a team who matched up with them and found a way to win. That is the sign of a pretty good team.
UNC's penchant for winning close games has reached a ridiculous point. The Heels are 8-1 in games decided by three points or less with the lone loss coming against Texas in Greensboro. That does not count the OT win over Clemson in the ACC semifinals. It just does not seem to matter the circumstances, if UNC is in a close game in the final five minutes of regulation then chances are they will find a way to win. Sooner or later that is going to backfire on them. However with the Heels making it to the Sweet Sixteen and winning their 28th game of the season, I think they are playing with house money. That being said UNC faces #11 seeded Marquette in the regional semifinals which should not be taken for granted but at least it isn't Syracuse and that accursed zone defense.UNC has not faced Marquette in the NCAA Tournament since the 1977 NCAA title game loss which left the Tar Heels heartbroken.
The time for vengeance is at hand.