GREENSBORO – With John Henson making a triumphant return, North Carolina had a surprisingly easy time with Creighton, winning 87-73 before a baby-blue crowd at the Greensboro Coliseum to advance to the Sweet 16.
But the win was marred by the postgame news that point guard Kendall Marshall has a fractured right wrist and is questionable for UNC's next game Friday. Marshall, a lefty, said if the injury was in his left wrist "I'd tell you I'm not playing right now." But he is hopeful that he can play since the injury is to his non-dominant hand.
The Tar Heel players reacted with shock to the news of Marshall's injury. "Devastating," Harrison Barnes said.
"When you go to the Sweet 16, it's supposed to be a lot more fun than this," Coach Roy Williams said.
The Tar Heels and N.C. State both travel to St. Louis this coming week for Sweet 16 games and could meet in the Elite Eight, although both must win another game to do that.
Henson’s return from the bad wrist that had kept him out of the past three games was huge for the Tar Heels. UNC often matched him up on Doug McDermott, Creighton’s 23-point-per-game scorer. Henson had four inches on McDermott and blocked or altered his shot numerous times. Henson also was able to score and rebound well enough (he had 13 points and 10 rebounds) that he started and stayed in for most of the game.
The Tar Heels enjoyed the chance to run – Creighton also likes to play the up-and-down game that UNC is built to play. Marshall continued his recent scoring surge, knocking down his first six shots and ending with 18 points and 11 assists (the injury occured with 10:56 to play, but he played through it for most of the rest of the game).
UNC survived an off shooting day from Barnes (7-for-19) and an average one for Tyler Zeller with good performances from Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo.
Although Barnes – once a high school teammate of McDermott’s in Ames, Iowa – missed several layups, he also knocked down two straight three-pointers with five minutes to go that sealed the victory. Creighton had cut the margin to 12, but those two threes pushed it back to 18 and ensured the Tar Heels a Sweet 16 berth against the winner of the Ohio-South Florida game.
McDermott had 20 points on 19 shots, but the Tar Heels kept him enough in check they were never seriously threatened. Now Marshall's injury, however, has thrown so much into doubt.