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The Daily Tar Heel

Kendall Marshall leads UNC against Duke

DURHAM — It was a familiar scene for North Carolina on Saturday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. After dominating its contest with Duke for the duration of play, UNC found itself up against a hard-charging Blue Devils squad in the final 10 minutes.

But unlike the contest held less than three weeks ago in Chapel Hill, this season’s second episode of college basketball’s most storied rivalry featured a UNC team that met Duke’s late assault with equal aggression.

In the closing minutes, as he did throughout the contest, North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall reminded his teammates of the three words UNC coach Roy Williams wrote at the top of the Tar Heels’ to-do list for the night: “attack, attack, attack.”

But perhaps no Tar Heel heeded Williams advice so much as Marshall, who delivered 20 points, many coming in the game’s biggest moments, and 10 assists to lead the Tar Heels to an overpowering 88-70 victory against the Blue Devils.

“Coach talked about us being the aggressor for a full 40 minutes. The type of team Duke is, you can’t just play passive when you get a lead. They’ll capitalize on that, which they’ve done plenty of times,” Marshall said.

“So we just wanted to make sure that we stayed aggressive and kept attacking them on offense.”

In Duke’s 85-84 victory at the Smith Center on Feb. 8, Marshall’s counterpart, Duke point guard Austin Rivers, came through with one stunning effort after another to pull the Blue Devils through.

None of Marshall’s individual plays on Saturday were particularly jaw-dropping, but he orchestrated a team performance which resuscitated the early-season notion that North Carolina has the goods to win a national championship.

With Marshall heading the charge, North Carolina played with an efficiency that kept them fully in control of the contest throughout the night. The Tar Heels shot a torrid 54.5 percent from the field, the team’s best shooting performance in conference play this season, and held a lead of 11 points or more for the final 35:32 of the game.

Seven of Marshall’s 10 assists on the night came on simple feeds to forward Tyler Zeller, who was his usual, dependable self. The UNC senior tallied 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting with 10 rebounds, despite playing just 26 minutes due to foul trouble.

And when Duke defenders inched up on Marshall on the perimeter, he drove to the hoop, often dishing out to forward John Henson for open looks. Henson was the matchup nightmare that he has shown he can be, pouring in mid-range jumpers in addition to his usual repertoire of hooks, lay-ins and put-backs.

“(Marshall) understands the levers of power on his team and when to use them,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He is the ultimate point guard.”

But perhaps the most important aspect of Marshall’s play Saturday night, at least for Tar Heel fans, was the confidence and assertiveness he displayed in key moments. After allowing Duke to hang around and stun UNC at the buzzer in Chapel Hill, Marshall made sure to step on the Blue Devils throats Saturday whenever they drew a gasp.

With the Blue Devils already down 22 at the close of the first half, Marshall held for one shot, drilling a mid-range, pull-up jumper as time expired to put an exclamation point on the Tar Heel’s dominant first-half display.

Marshall continued to stem the Blue Devil tide in the second half. Both times the Blue Devils trimmed the margin below 15 points – bringing the Duke student section to a crescendo – Marshall responded, first with a pair of cool free throws to push the margin to 16, and then with a buzzer-beating 18-footer to push the UNC lead back to 13.

“One thing that we talked about was using the full 35 seconds of the shot clock every time. If we do that every single time, the game will run out, no matter if they score every time down the court,” Marshall said. “So we wanted to make sure we got a good or great shot every time.

Following the game, Williams made light of Marshall’s performance, indicating that his point guard made several “bonehead plays.”

But in summing up his opening thoughts, Williams paid Marshall the best compliment a point guard can receive.

“Tonight, it was about North Carolina’s team,” Williams said. “Everybody did some good things.”

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