“I think this game we played great D,” forward John Henson said. “It all came together today. I just remember on the bus hearing how they were talking on SportsCenter about how we don’t play D. We felt like we had to show them we play D.”
The Tar Heels held Marquette to 6-for-30 from the field in a half that saw the lead balloon to 25 before the intermission.
Perhaps the best way to quantify UNC’s stifling first-half defense is the Golden Eagles’ assist-to-turnover ratio. Marquette did not muster a single assist, while turning the ball over 12 times.
Marquette (22-15) struggled so mightily with protecting the ball that the players seemed to allow it to snowball, with one bad pass leading to another.
“I’m not going to say the language they were saying on the court, but they were frustrated,” guard Dexter Strickland said. “You could tell. I think our team did a great job of getting out there and pressuring.”
UNC used this dry spell to go on a 19-0 run to put them ahead for good.
“I looked up at the clock and it was 10-8 in their favor, and the next time I looked at the clock is when I went off at halftime and it was 40-15,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “I knew we were doing very well to say the least.”
Marquette coach Buzz Williams called three of his team’s five allotted timeouts before halftime, in an attempt to spur his players to more production.
Just after halftime, he got it in the form of a 32-15 Marquette run.
North Carolina seemed to struggle with maintaining the focus that it had in the first half, on account of its huge scoring lead.
“It wouldn’t say it is (hard to keep intensity up with a huge lead), but you feel like we won already at that point,” Strickland said. “We’re up 30 with 13 minutes to go. That’s what we can’t do, because better teams are going to come back.”
Just as UNC tightened up defensively in the first half, the Tar Heels awoke when the lead had been whittled to 14. Four consecutive stops and some timely offense stretched the UNC lead back to a more comfortable 24-point margin.
Leslie McDonald hit a clutch wing three to start the run, after going 1-for-7 to precede that shot.
“Foremost, I’m just pleased that I hit a three, finally,” a grinning McDonald said. “I was kind of struggling from the arc, and that three really relieved me.”
On Sunday, the Tar Heels will face the winner of the Ohio State-Kentucky game that took place immediately after the UNC game in Newark.