For coach Roy Williams, it was something from the practice court.
“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. Three of those turnovers led directly to UNC points in the next seven seconds.
Three turnovers came from Harrison Barnes just taking the ball from a 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.
“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 in-bounds pass in such a way that it fluttered to Dexter Strickland to give UNC 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 later, UNC was moving on to the Sweet 16 in large part because of Henson’s length.
“John, he’s got a different body shape,” point guard Kendall Marshall said. “He’s not an average human being.”
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