Kendall Marshall’s Absence Felt in North Carolina Offense, Tar Heels Still Prevail in Overtime Thriller

Kendall Marshall's Absence Felt in North Carolina Offense, Tar Heels Still Prevail in Overtime ThrillerAs North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall went down to the floor against Creighton last Sunday, head coach Roy Williams' face could have said it all.

The Tar Heels coach was looking on from the sideline with a stare fit for a deer in headlights. The thoughts racing through his head must've been something similar to the Boston Celtics watching their banners lowered from the rafters this past week, in preparation for the weekend's NCAA East Regional.

Marshall has been the catalyst for the UNC offense all season and without him steadying the attack there were major concerns about Carolina's chances to win a sixth national championship.

On Friday, those slim chances nearly became but a distant dream, as a feisty Ohio University team fought the Heels tooth and nail into an overtime thriller Williams wouldn't have expected at tournament's start.

Bobcats' guard Walter Offutt exploited the uneasy Carolina backcourt, attacking nearly at will to finish with 26 points and 6-of-10 from 3-point land. Bobcats' point guard D.J. Cooper also took advantage of Marshall's absence, albeit on a horrid shooting night — just 3-of-20 from the field, scoring 10 points and dishing out six assists in what was nearly a major upset for the 13th seed.

The Carolina players could clearly feel Marshall's absence on the floor, as the most obvious indication was the team's season-high 24 turnovers. Players like Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes appeared to be all but lost on the offensive end for most of the night, making errant passes and forcing shots from deep range. But, ultimately, Carolina prevailed.

Zeller was a rebounding machine on Friday with a career-high 22, and was able to regain his offensive composure later in the game. But the senior forward was very blunt about missing his point guard.

"You know we're missing our point guard," Zeller said after the 73-65 win. "It's a transition getting together with a new point guard, but it's something we've got to deal with.

Meanwhile a clearly out-of-sync Barnes struggled for the majority of the night, but was able to propel the offense in overtime with five of his 12 points coming in the extra frame.

The only North Carolina player who really seemed comfortable on the night was shooting guard Reggie Bullock. The sophomore got into a rhythm early and continued his stellar tournament play with an all around effort of 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

Williams and the rest of the Carolina team are definitely hoping that the offensive leader can return to the floor for Sunday night's regional final. But questions still remain.

An exuberant Williams playfully joked before Friday's game that he hoped Marshall would be able to get down and give him "10 one-handed pushups", proving he was able to play. But Williams also revealed the star guard couldn't even brush his teeth with the fractured right wrist.

The reality of the situation for UNC is that Marshall is unlikely to play with the squad in Sunday's final against Kansas. But the Heels will likely not suffer through another dismal offensive effort again, either.

If Zeller, Barnes and John Henson can lead the Heels through the gauntlet that is expected in St. Louis come Sunday afternoon, then maybe Marshall will be healthy enough to return for next weekend's Final Four.

Health can sure turn around quickly for guys when a once in a lifetime chance in on the line. And next weekend's trip to the Final Four may just be that opportunity for Marshall.

Who knows, maybe he'll find his health before Sunday's Midwest regional final. Because, after Friday's effort, it's clear they badly need him.

Yardbarker

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