Carolina fell behind early and appeared to be on the verge of getting blown out, but the Tar Heels clawed back from an eight-point halftime deficit and had the ball down only one point with just over one minute remaining. Kendall Marshall’s drive attempt was blocked, however, and the Wildcats put the game on ice from the free throw line.
For a season-ending defeat, few fans griped with the team. The Tar Heels demonstrated their characteristic resilience, but Kentucky simply out-shot them by too great a margin on the perimeter. The ‘Cats hit 12-for-22 on threes while UNC made only 3-for-16, and that disparity proved decisive.
Not all was lost. Carolina certainly eradicated any lingering dark clouds from last season, and the Tar Heels did advance farthest of any ACC team. Sunday’s game also drew an estimated 17 million viewers — the highest-rated game of the tournament — and television exposure is the lifeblood of recruiting.
As was the case throughout the tournament, Tyler Zeller led the way for the Heels. He scored 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting and added nine rebounds. Harrison Barnes struggled with his jump shot but did finish with 18 points and six boards, and during one stretch in the second half he simply was amazing.
Marshall struggled against the defensive length of DeAndre Liggins and shot only 2-for-10. An even bigger problem was John Henson’s foul trouble; the big man never got into the game and finished with only four points (albeit with nine rebounds) in 23 minutes. Dexter Strickland played heroic defense against Kentucky ace Brandon Knight — whose long three-pointer to break a tie was the most important basket of the game — and added 11 points as well.
If everyone returns and obviously depending on NBA departures at other schools, Carolina would be a popular choice as the preseason No. 1 team next season. Two more McDonald’s All-Americans — power forward James McAdoo and shooter P.J. Hairston — will make their way to Chapel Hill in the fall, and the club also should benefit from a healthy Reggie Bullock returning to the lineup. The only senior on the team is Justin Knox, and McAdoo should be able to out-perform him even as a freshman.
If all three players were to exit for the pros, UNC obviously will have major problems restocking the lineup. The consensus is that losing all three is unlikely, but no one knows for certain yet, probably even the players themselves.
To view the UNC/UK box score, click here.