Feb. 6, 2011
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) –
The students kept chanting his name. The crowd gave him the loudest cheer during starting lineups, then a standing ovation when he came out of the game following a record-setting performance.
Kendall Marshall is quickly making No. 23 North Carolina his team.
The freshman point guard had nine points and a season-high 16 assists – the most by a UNC player in any Atlantic Coast Conference game – to help the Tar Heels beat Florida State 89-69 on Sunday.
Fellow rookie Harrison Barnes had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Tar Heels (17-5, 7-1), who ripped through the Seminoles’ stingy defense to win for the 10th time in 11 games.
Everything started with Marshall, who was thrust into a leading role with the abrupt departure of junior point guard Larry Drew II from the program on Friday. Marshall’s 16 assists were the most by a UNC player since Raymond Felton had 18 against George Mason in December 2003.
Asked if he was making a statement that it’s his team now, Marshall said, “I felt it. I won’t say it was a statement because we had a lot of great players play great tonight. … But as a point guard of this team, I do sort of feel like the leader and I have to lead by example.
Marshall got pretty much anywhere he wanted against the Seminoles (16-7, 6-3) while directing an offense that is averaging 93 points over the past three ACC games. He penetrated past defenders to set up layups and dunks for teammates or kicked the ball out – sometimes behind his head – to open shooters on the wing.
North Carolina’s 89 points and 56 percent shooting were not only the most allowed this season by the Seminoles, who came in leading the ACC in field goal percentage defense (35.5 percent) and second in scoring defense (60.6 points). It was the most points allowed by the Seminoles since giving up 90 to the Tar Heels almost three years ago.
It was a strong showing for North Carolina as it heads into Wednesday night’s trip to reigning national champion and fifth-ranked Duke, particularly considering the turmoil that began barely 48 hours earlier.
“We just wanted to come out here with a swagger,” Marshall said, “with an edge to us and basically show that we’re still North Carolina, that one player doesn’t make our program.”
Marshall had taken over the starting job from Drew after an ugly 20-point loss at Georgia Tech, and the Tar Heels hadn’t lost since. Then Drew walked out, issuing a statement without even a word to his teammates while relying on his father–Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew–to tell coach Roy Williams in a phone call.
Williams said the team talked about Drew’s departure in a meeting Friday afternoon, then revisited it briefly Saturday morning.
“It was a little bit of a difficult time we’ve gone through the last 48 hours,” Williams said. “Usually when that happens, you’d love to play a game so you can put all that stuff behind you. We talked a great deal when it happened, that it was over with, it was behind us. We had to go forward and I think we did that today.”
His departure forced more of a burden on Marshall and sophomore Dexter Strickland. But Marshall looked completely at ease, finishing with three turnovers in a season-high 36 minutes while directing an offense that hummed almost all game.
“We hadn’t seen him play,” FSU’s Chris Singleton said. “We underestimated him, and he showed us what he’s capable of doing.”
He also came through with a critical basket. After Florida State scored nine straight points to pull within seven midway through the second half, Marshall hit a long 3-pointer over Singleton to beat the shot clock and push the margin to 60-50 with 10:27 left.
The Seminoles never got that close again.
“We had a difficult time keeping him in front of us,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “He just seems to be extremely clever with the ball, has his head up and is almost a throwback to those guys who seem to always know where his teammates are.”
Tyler Zeller and John Henson both scored 16 points for the Tar Heels, while Strickland had 15 points, six rebounds and four assists in a season-high 35 minutes.
“I think this team chemistry is at an all-time high,” Strickland said. “For us to play like this, our actions speak, and it says that we’re a team and we love each other. We’re playing like it and we’ve just got to continue to play like it.”
Singleton scored 15 points to lead Florida State, which had won the past two meetings–edging the Tar Heels in the 2009 ACC tournament semifinals then winning by 10 here last March. But FSU has never won three straight in the series.