January 13, 2011

The Marshall Plan

CHAPEL HILL - This was the performance all the Kendall Marshall fans had been waiting for.

Marshall had nine points and nine assists - without a single turnover - while logging a career-high 24 minutes in North Carolina's 64-61 win against Virginia Tech.

While the Tar Heels (12-4, 2-0 in the ACC) had three players in double-figure scoring, led by John Henson's 17 points, Marshall was undeniably the spark that made the difference.

"He came up big," said Henson, whose scoring was a career-best for an ACC game. "I'm thankful for him right now. He pulled us through in the end."

With Larry Drew II limited by foul trouble, Marshall made the most of his extra time on the floor.

And none of those minutes was more important than the last one.

With the Tar Heels leading by one point and Dexter Strickland stuck at the wrong end of the floor, Marshall had no choice but to guard Virginia Tech's dangerous point guard, Malcolm Delaney, who scored 28 points.

Delaney - who made his seventh 3-pointer of the night to cut UNC's lead to 62-61 with 47 seconds remaining - hoisted a three attempt with Marshall's hand in his face with eight seconds to go.

The ball came off the rim and eventually ended up in Marshall's hands again, though the details of what happened in the next five seconds were a blur to the freshman.

"I have no recollection of that play," Marshall said with a laugh.

He did, however, remember what happened next.

That was him stepping to the free-throw line and calmly knocking down a pair of free throws to ice the win against the Hokies (10-5, 1-2).

"At the end of the day, it's basketball," Marshall said. "All I could think about on that last play was just a little phrase I always live by: big-time players step up and make big-time plays in big-time games. And I had to do the best I could to stop (Delaney)."

Fellow freshman Harrison Barnes was also big down the stretch after a lackluster game overall.

He hit a pair of 3-pointers as he scored eight of his 12 points in a two-minute span late in the game. The second three put the Heels up four with 1:32 to play.

"That's probably the most free of mind I've felt all year, just letting it go, and it went in," Barnes said.

Last year, the Tar Heels opened with a win in conference play but then lost seven of their next eight games.

And given that UNC's road win at Virginia to kick off this year of ACC play wasn't exactly a sparkling gem of a basketball game, the Heels still had to prove the 1-0 start wasn't a fluke.

They accomplished that by winning, but didn't improve much in the aesthetics department.

Williams called the UNC win at Virginia one of the ugliest he'd ever been a part of, and this one wasn't going to win any modeling contests, either.

Still, overcoming a 16-point deficit was something.

Doing it despite 17 turnovers and a 5-for-21 showing from beyond the 3-point arc, was even more impressive, if not all that pretty to watch.

So the Tar Heels stand with a perfect conference record after two games, having overcome double-digit deficits in both of them.

And while Henson, Barnes and Tyler Zeller, who had 16 points, were big reasons for that, there's no denying the bulk of the credit for this one goes to Marshall.

"I think I just happen to be playing well," Marshall said. "Coach had faith in me being in there at the end, and I'm thankful for the opportunity. It does a whole lot for my confidence. It gives you confidence that you can do it for the rest of the season."



 

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