NEW YORK — North Carolina’s point guard wants a little bit of redemption — and in Madison Square Garden, he started to get some.
Larry Drew II has been under fire most of this season. He’s denied rumors that he’s transferring and weathered both storms of criticism and 16 losses.
But in the NIT, far away from the NCAA Final Four, Drew has been quietly exorcising some of those demons. Tuesday night, he did it in a big way.
In the same building where UNC suffered its first loss of the season, Drew extended UNC’s season for the third straight game.
“I’m either dumb or I’m confident, because I keep putting it in his hands,” UNC coach Roy Williams said of his sophomore floor general.
With the clock winding down in regulation, Drew — as has become his end-of-game ritual in the NIT — drove the lane and hit a layup to tie the score and send the game into overtime. This time, it was Drew into the lane with 55 seconds to play.
And in the extra period, it was Drew who found first Tyler Zeller in the paint for a 3-point play, then found Deon Thompson for two free throws.
“I feel like those are the kinds of situations I was bred for,” Drew said. “That’s why I came here.”
And this time, it wasn’t in Starkville, Miss., or even in Birmingham, Ala. It was in Madison Square Garden. It was in the same gym where Syracuse handed UNC its first loss of the season, 87-71.
In that game, Drew went 0-for-2 and did not score. Tuesday night, Drew was 4-for-11 with nine crucial points, five assists and three turnovers.
“Late-game situations we’re putting it in his hands, and he’s done a great job with it,” senior Marcus Ginyard said. “He’s really showing us that he wants that, and that if we put him in that situation, he can make a play.”
With the postseason run, Drew’s play — in UNC’s last three games, he’s hit a late-game layup to either win or tie the game — has given UNC a confidence it lacked just a month ago in the regular season
“It’s just a refocused team,” Ginyard said. “We’ve been a little bit more confident.”
And it’s easy to see the reason. With UNC scrambling at the end of overtime, Drew’s jump shot missed and Rhode Island collected — but in the scramble, the ball rolled loose.
Drew collected as the buzzer sounded.
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