Reggie Bullock heard it all week, and then on the court: North Carolina can’t win without Kendall Marshall.
It goaded him.
“I just saw one of (Ohio’s) assistant coaches on the bench, and I read his lips. He was basically just saying that we can’t win this game without Kendall Marshall on the court,” Bullock said. “So I brought all the guys together and let them know that we’re still Carolina without Kendall.”
UNC (32-5) may not have looked like a team that believed that at times in its 73-65 overtime win against Ohio, but Bullock did.
With Kendall Marshall on the bench, and the Tar Heels clearly feeling the effects of it, Bullock carried a slipping UNC team in the second half.
He played well all game, but it started, he said, when the guard read an Ohio coach’s lips.
“I’m glad it fired Reggie up, because he won the game for us,” Henson said.
Bullock finished the game with 17 points and 10 rebounds, but more impressive was that Bullock’s shots seemed to fall when UNC needed them most.
After Ohio (29-8) took the lead 47-46 and James Michael McAdoo reclaimed it with two free throws, Bullock hit a 3-pointer to distance the Tar Heels. Bullock hit another long-range dagger when UNC trailed 61-60 with 40 seconds left.
That shot put UNC in overtime once Ohio’s Walter Offutt missed a go-ahead free throw with 25 seconds left. Bullock opened extra time with another 3-pointer. He made five 3’s in all.
Bullock was big for UNC, but he wasn’t alone. Three Tar Heel players finished with double-doubles, the first time UNC has ever had three double-doubles in a NCAA tournament game.
The biggest Friday was Tyler Zeller’s 20 points and 22 rebounds.
“That’s big,” Henson said. “He’s been a big time player for us.”
But it was more than that. Zeller’s performance was the first 20-20 performance in the NCAA tournament since Tim Duncan did as much in 1997.
“It’s kind of like all season,” Zeller said. “I never would have thought I’d be put in (conversation) with any of the names in the rafters. They’re all spectacular players.”
The Tar Heels, and Zeller, had a sizable height advantage against Ohio. Only one player on the Bobcats’ roster was taller than 6-foot-8.
That certainly helped Zeller and UNC outrebound Ohio. The Tar Heels grabbed 63 rebounds in total to just 30 from the Bobcats. That’s the widest margin UNC has ever turned in an NCAA tournament game.
And yet, it didn’t seem to matter. After a fairly one-sided first half and a 29-22 UNC lead at halftime, Ohio made a furious push from the 3-point line.
The Bobcats stripped UNC’s defense bare with dribble penetration and kick-outs for open 3-point looks. Ohio made eight of its first 12 shots from behind the arc after halftime.
“Their point guard was just trying to pick us apart and we were just bluffing too early,” Bullock said. “We just need to continue to work on those things and make smarter plays down the stretch.”
The Tar Heels did enough down the stretch to force overtime. Once in overtime, the Tar Heels overpowered. UNC outscored Ohio 10-2 in extra time and held the Bobcats to 0-of-6 shooting from the floor.
John Henson, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, also hit his fair share of shots down the stretch. Almost all of them were 18-footers.
Henson said UNC never wanted to win the game the way it did, but the Tar Heels are in the Elite Eight for the second year in a row.
It will be Bullock’s first. He missed the postseason last year with a torn ACL.
“All I was thinking in my mind was, ‘It’s my time now,’” Bullock said. “I’ve been wanting to play in the NCAA my whole life….I’m just shooting with confidence right now.”
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