February 6, 2011

Marshall's 16 assists lead Heels to win vs. FSU

CHAPEL HILL - It didn't take long for North Carolina to figure out how it was going to get along without Larry Drew II.

Which is to say, just fine.

The No. 23 Tar Heels, led by a fantastic performance from Drew's replacement, got off to a hot start and eventually ran away from Florida State for a 89-69 win.

"I think our guys were emotionally, mentally and physically ready to play and play really well," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "We had to go forward, and I think we did that."

It was the most points given up all season by the Seminoles, who statistically have the ACC's best defense.

Freshman point guard Kendall Marshall, whose ascendance to the starting job precipitated Drew's departure from the program, had 16 assists, the most ever for a Carolina freshman.

Even more impressive, Marshall's 16 assists were the most of any Tar Heel ever in an ACC game.

"Thinking about all the great point guards that have come through here, it's a good feeling," Marshall said.

When the freshman left the game for good with 66 seconds to play, the Smith Center crowd gave him a well-deserved standing ovation.

Five separate times during the second half, the crowd at the Smith Center chanted his name as Carolina (17-5, 7-1 in the ACC) piled up a double-figure lead against FSU (16-7, 6-3).

"Him having a big game was very important," said Dexter Strickland, who scored 15 points. "If he keeps this up, there's no telling where we can go."

Perhaps the only negative to Marshall's day was the toll taken on his body by going from 20-something minutes per game to the 36 he played against the Seminoles.

At halftime, Marshall quickly excused himself to the bathroom so he could throw up.

"My body definitely felt 36 minutes," he said.

While Marshall was the standout, the rest of the Tar Heels thrived off his success.

The other four Carolina starters were all in double figures - led by 17 from Harrison Barnes - and combined for 54 points.

"(Marshall) knows where everybody is supposed to be," Strickland said.

The result was that the Tar Heels shot 55.7 percent in the game - as well as an astounding 64.3 percent in the second half - against an FSU squad that came into the game leading the nation in field-goal percentage defense.

Before this game, the Seminoles were holding opponents to 35.5 percent shooting for the season.

You never would have known it from watching Marshall and the Tar Heels operate.

The first basket of the game was a 3-pointer from Marshall, who was starting his fifth straight game since replacing Drew on Jan. 18.

From there, Marshall provided several highlight-reel passes in the first half alone, including a behind-the-head dish to set up an open jump shot for John Henson, who scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Strickland, who started at shooting guard and backed up Marshall at the point, was instrumental in Carolina's ability to open up a double-figure lead in the first half thanks to his ability to get to the basket.

The Tar Heels hit a brief lull midway through the second half, allowing FSU to cut the lead to seven points with 11minutes to go.

But on the next possession, Marshall knocked down a 3-pointer, the last of his nine points, to beat the shot-clock buzzer and put the Tar Heels on the path to their third straight win of 20-plus points.

Keeping that momentum going despite the disruption caused by Drew's departure was a victory within a victory for the Tar Heels.

"Obviously, losing Larry hurts our team a little bit, but this is our team now, and we have to adjust," Marshall said. "We wanted to come out with a swagger, with an edge to us, and basically show that we're still North Carolina. One player doesn't make our program."





 

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