The 2011 North Carolina Tar Heels experienced quite the roller coaster. One year removed from a frustrating NIT-bound season, UNC started the season with high hopes for a bounce back year but stumbled out of the gate. They dropped 3 of their first 7 games and fell out of the Top 25. A blowout loss to a terrible Georgia Tech team put them at 12-5, and had some questioning whether the heavily-criticized Tar Heels weren’t at risk of (incredibly) missing the NCAA Tournament for a second successive year.
No one felt the criticism more than Harrison Barnes. The stud wingman who had announced his intention to join UNC via Skype was struggling. Games like his 0-12 nightmare against Minnesota might be forgiven in other freshmen. But he was the crown jewel of the 2010 class; He had been named a 1st-team Preseason All-American before even playing a game. Admittedly, he was never reasonably going to live up to the astronomical expectations others (and to some degree, himself) had placed upon him. But the Black Falcon had yet to stretch his wings.
You know what happened next: Larry Drew left town, Kendall Marshall took over, and the real Harrison Barnes emerged. Big time shots against Miami and Florida State established Barnes as a crunch time closer and his rediscovered confidence was vital in UNC rallying to win the ACC Regular Season title over a loaded Duke squad.
But Barnes’ best was yet to come: One day after Carolina was forced to come from 19 down to win at the buzzer over Miami in the ACC Quarterfinal, the Tar Heels were behind again, trailing Clemson by 14. Just as they had done the day before against Miami, UNC came out flat and listless. The Tigers did an excellent job of keeping the Heels out of transition and making Marshall’s life miserable in the first half. The only player who seemed engaged at all was Barnes.
But fortunately for UNC, he was more than engaged; He was locked in.
When Barnes came to Carolina, he was seen as one of the most versatile prospects Roy Williams had ever secured. In that ACC Semifinal, we saw why: Attacking the basket, hitting threes off the dribble, crashing the glass, and making free throws in crunch time. Barnes finished with 40 points on 12-17 shooting (6-8 from three, and 10-11 from the line). He added 8 rebounds, 4 of them on the offensive side.
His 40 were the most any player had scored in the ACC Tournament had scored since 1995 (Randolph Childress, ugh) and the most by a Tar Heel in the tournament since Charlie Scott in 1970. Barnes had already proved that he was legit in the second half of the regular season. But that night in Greensboro, he reminded everyone exactly why he had been so hyped in the first place.