After a week-long search for the answer of how to win without Kendall Marshall, coach Roy Williams thinks he found the answer — and it might be simpler than he first thought.
“I think it puts an emphasis on every other part of the game,” Williams said. “We’ve got to step our level up in every area. We have to defend better, we have to rebound better. If we are not going to get as many easy baskets because Kendall is not out there, then we’ve got to get some more that we have to earn.”
It’s simple in theory, and it isn’t that far off from what the Tar Heels did against Creighton.
Alongside the Tar Heels’ accustomed good defense and tough post play, North Carolina shot an impressive 8-for-16 from behind the arc to seize control of the game.
As usual, strong post play will be UNC’s lifeblood without Marshall, especially against an Ohio team with only one player taller than 6-foot-8.
But 3-point shooting could make the difference, just like it did against Creighton.
“It varies from game-to-game,” UNC forward John Henson said. “However, if we’re hitting 3’s, it just opens up for everyone else. I think we’re a much better team when we’re shooting 3’s.”
It’s true, and it’s not just the obvious advantage that shots are dropping.
When the Tar Heels are connecting from long range, it puts pressure on their opponent’s defense to close out on shooters. That gives UNC’s shooters a chance to create a simpler, unguarded shot. That movement, in turn, can lure another defender away, opening up one of the shooter’s teammates.
It’s a cycle that leaves opponents playing catch-up, but it all starts when UNC makes shots.
“That’s where we’re going to create and give it down low to Z or John and get yourself open more,” guard P.J. Hairston said. “That’s how you become more effective on the offensive end.”
But good 3-point shooting would just be a bonus. UNC only shot better than 40 percent from long range in 12 of its 36 games this season. UNC struggled to make the long shots count, but long-range shooting isn’t what led the Tar Heels to a 31-5 record.
North Carolina’s frontcourt talent alone should provide enough of an advantage against the Bobcats.
“As a team, we’re not going to get away from what we do,” Marshall said. “We’re still going to work from the inside out … I think we’re playing great basketball right now. Reggie Bullock is doing a tremendous job. He’s knocking down shots. P.J. hit a couple of shots which is great for us.”
The Tar Heels are bigger and taller, and there isn’t a single player on Ohio’s roster who averages more than five rebounds a game.
“We want to rebound,” Henson said. “That gets you extra possessions. That’s what we’re good at.”
North Carolina is good at rebounding and pounding the ball in the post, and they’re tough to beat because of it.
When they knock down 3-pointers, they’re tougher.
At some point, especially if UNC is without Marshall, those shots will need to fall.
“(Williams) basically told us we have to become big-time players,” Hairston said.
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