It was not the way that UNC wanted to start its run in the Big Dance, going 1 for 8 to begin the game, and it took a while for the Heels to get into their form. But when it did top seed North Carolina (30-5 ~ 14-2 in the ACC) looked dominant against No. 16 Vermont (24-12 ~ 13-3 America East) defeating them by the final of 77 to 58, just a duece below what I had predicted the final would be in my preview. For head coach Roy Williams, who has now gotten his 5th 30 wins season in the nine year at Chapel Hill, who had to play without his junior power forward John Henson, the lead was good enough to allow his starters to get rest, both during the game as well as at the end of the game, pulling most of them with four minutes to go in this one.
But by no means was this an easy one for No. 4 AP & ESPN/USA Today North Carolina at the beginning as they went into the second television time out with just a 11 to 9 lead and not looking good at all having hit a mere 4 out of 15 shots from the field. While most were wondering what was going on coach Williams kept to his usual routine, subbing in Stilman White and Desmond Hubert while Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller were on the bench. With about seven minutes to go it was still a two point lead for the Tar Heels, going to the under 8 minutes tv TO with a 17 to 15 lead. The only major note on offense was the monster putback jam by James McAdoo.
But after that Carolina began to show why they are a number one seed in this tournament, something that they have been 14 times over all, five times under coach Williams, as they went on one of their runs and brought the score 26 to 19 as the last tv timeout came around. From there on it was the Tar Heels taking over and the Catamounts could not keep up with the talent and the height that was put against them.
Once again it was the front court that gave UNC their win. Senior big man Tyler Zeller, who had yet another double double with 17 points, 15 rebounds to go with four blocks, had scored 15 pts and grabbed nine boards in the first twenty minutes of the game. His partner, freshman James McAdoo, who had his best game since donning the carolina blue, also scored 17 points, going with six boards (five on the offensive side) and four steals. Desmond Hubert and Justin Watts combined for 24 minutes, scoring just two points and grabbing four rebounds (3 offensive).
In the back court it was once again Marshall leading the way, getting his third double double in the last four games, this time with 11 points and 10 assists. However, for me the key number was nine, which is the number of minutes that the floor general was able to rest up during this game. The tandem of Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston both scored seven points, the first on 2 for 9 (2 for 6 from trey) and the latter on 3 for 9 (1 for 6 from beyond the arc), while Harrison Barnes once again had some good shots and then some a bit too pushed, ending up with 14 points (5 for 12 ~ 1 for 3 ~ 3 for 3) and six rebounds.
But for both the players in the paint and the ones on the perimeter it was the defense that helped them get past the first twelve minutes of sloppy basketball in the first half (and the first six in the second as well) as Vermont ended up with 25 made baskets and 19 turnovers, 11 made and 10 TOs in the first part of the game. The fact that Carolina was without the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and played very well on that side of the ball can only make both the coaching staff and the fan base smile, just like coach Williams did with about 8 minutes to go in the game after an “and one” play by Harrison Barnes.
Carolina will now wait to see at what time they will meet up on Sunday with No. 8 Creighton, who squeezed by No. 9 Alabama 58 to 57 on another so-so non call with time running out. Along with that the coaching staff, the players and the fan base will wait and see if Henson will be back for this game or if it will be next week until he is back on the court.