For UNC coach Roy Williams, it was something out of the practice court.
“All year long in practice, we work on getting stops on one possession, we call it ‘must stop,’” Williams said. “We must stop them right now to have a better chance to win the game. With four minutes left, that’s what we started talking about, ‘we need a stop right now.’”
Many of those stops could be attributed to the fast hands of the Tar Heels, as UNC recovered five steals and two blocks in that span — meaning they could quickly grab the ball and go the other way with it. Three of those turnovers led directly to UNC points within the next seven seconds.
Three turnovers came from Harrison Barnes just taking the ball from an either unsuspecting or unprepared Husky.
“In all of our close games we’ve had, win or lose, our defense has been what defines it,” Barnes said. “There’s such a fine line between winning and losing. A turnover here, a bad pass there, there was a stretch down the last couple minutes that we played the best defense we’ve had all year.”
Of those eight misses, only one could have been called open, due to the lockdown defense of the Tar Heels.
Henson chipped in two blocks, including a volleyball spike of Darnell Gant’s layup that led directly to a Barnes 3-pointer and swung momentum to the Tar Heels for good.
And there was that tip. With 7.4 seconds left, the Huskies didn’t have the luxury of throwing the ball into the backcourt and reset the offense, like so many of UNC’s opponents had done against Henson.
“He’s so long, and the thing about him is inbounders try to focus on getting it to their players, but they can’t see over his long arms and his body frame,” guard Leslie McDonald said. “He causes a problem. Even though he might not get a tip, he distracts the inbounder from defenders.”
Needing to throw it into the front court in order to get a quick shot, Justin Holiday couldn’t quite do it, as Henson was able to tip his inbounds pass in such a way that it fluttered directly to Dexter Strickland to give the Tar Heels control of the game.
“I think our wings guarded the corner a little bit tougher than they had, because that’s where they had been throwing it, so they didn’t have many options,” Henson said. “Fortunately I got my hand on the basketball.”
Two free throws and two UW desperation heaves later, the Tar Heels were moving on to the Sweet 16 in Newark, N.J., in large part because of Henson’s length. UNC will play Marquette.
“John, he’s got a different body shape,” point guard Kendall Marshall said. “He’s not an average human being.”
_Contact the Sports Editor