Kendall Marshall raised some eyebrows on Wednesday when he was quoted in the Durham Herald-Sun as saying that North Carolina had never been taught how to close a game:
Marshall said former Tar Heels guard Shammond Williams came by practice on Friday and talked to the players about finishing games out.
“He just asked us, ‘Has anybody ever explained to you all how to manage a game? You know, how to win a game?” Marshall said. “And as weird as the question sounds, no.”
While what Marshall intended to say and the meaning of the words that actually came out of his mouth may differ a bit, it brought up a topic that has been a bugaboo for UNC fans since Larry Drew popped off after a game against Clemson two years ago. The fact that North Carolina was less than a week removed from one of the most forgettable collapses (or memorable comebacks, depending what shade of blue you wear) in the history of their rivalry with Duke only helped drive home a point that folks around college basketball had been discussing: is North Carolina capable of firing the kill-shot?
And if the last two games have told us anything, the answer is year. On Saturday, UNC pulled away from a good Virginia team at home, winning a game that was close throughout by 18 points when the smoke cleared. On Wednesday, the Heels went into Coral Gables and knocked off Miami 73-64 despite trailing by eight points midway through the second half. Much like the game against UVA, North Carolina used a late surge to close out the win. All of this comes just 11 days after UNC went into College Park and overcame a scrappy Maryland team with a run in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Personally, I believe that the result of last Wednesday’s game with Duke was more the result of a fluky and impressive comeback by the Blue Devils than any kind of a negative sign in regards to UNC.
In fact, the concern I have about North Carolina has to do with their offensive attack. Simply put, they have not been shooting the ball all that well of late. Three of the past five games, they have shot below 40% from the field, and prior to a 5-12 shooting performance from beyond the arc in the second half against Miami, UNC had gone 2-22 from three in their previous five halves of basketball. On the season, UNC shoots threes as infrequently as anyone in the country, which makes their recent struggles offensively all the more concerning.
But this is also North Carolina. Given how well they run the floor — and given the fact they are the fifth-best offensive rebounding team in the country — they will get their points.
Just think about what will happen if they ever start to hit three consistently.