ATLANTA – In a fascinating game fueled by storylines of controversy and attrition, North Carolina edged N.C. State, 69-67, in an ACC tournament semifinal Saturday.
UNC coach Roy Williams didn’t play John Henson (left wrist injury) during the game because Henson still couldn’t catch or grip a basketball without pain. Williams said Henson was questionable for the ACC tournament final. “If it had been the Final Four, he probably would have played,” Williams said of Henson.
N.C. State forward C.J. Leslie was the best player on the floor for long stretches, but he didn’t play the final 8:03 after picking up his fourth and fifth fouls in 32 seconds when the Wolfpack coaches didn’t take him out immediately following his fourth foul.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said he didn’t know it was Leslie’s fifth foul when it happened. He blamed the problem on himself and the N.C. State coaching staff, calling it a “miscommunication.” If he had known Leslie already had four fouls, Gottfried said, he would have taken Leslie out. It was a bad mistake by N.C. State.
N.C. State was down by five points when Leslie left, but they still made it a game – and by doing so should have assured themselves an NCAA tournament spot in my opinion. Roy Williams said he thought N.C. State (22-12) should make the field as well.
Lorenzo Brown scored five straight points and the game was tied at 67-all (and Tyler Zeller had fouled out, too) when Kendall Marshall drove with the shot clock running out and knocked down a bank shot with 10 seconds to go (N.C. State fans believed Marshall charged on the play, but no call was made).
Then N.C. State’s Scott Wood then threw the ball away trying to get it inside when Justin Watts saw the passing lane and made a timely steal. Watts heaved the ball downcourt and N.C. State recovered the ball and called timeout with 1.2 seconds remaining. There was a lot of contact on the lob pass to Richard Howell, but no foul was called and UNC won by the two-point margin of Marshall’s shot.
“I feel like in that situation I don’t think they’re going to call a ticky-tack foul,” Marshall said of the no-call on his banked jumper. “Thankfully I was able to make that play for my team.”
Gottfried said he wasn’t going to talk about the officiating because he would get fined if
he did so.
Henson looked lonely on the second row of the Tar heels’ bench, and the Tar Heels sometimes looked lonely in the paint without him. Without Henson’s Defensive Player of the Year shotblocking and rebounding, N.C. State could and did attack the basket with much more impunity. UNC finished the game without a single blocked shot but did outrebound N.C. State by one (34-33) without Henson.
Gottfried lobbied again for his team to get an at-large NCAA bid in the postgame. “We’re going to be a tough out if we get in it,” Gottfried said.
Zeller had 23 points and nine rebounds for UNC, while Leslie led the Wolfpack for 22 points and Howell had a game-high 12 rebounds. Marshall had 12 points and 10 assists for UNC.
“He makes the team run,” Zeller said of Marshall. “He’s very valuable.”
“No one has a player who’s indispensable,” Williams said, “but if we do, it’s Kendall.”