Kendall Marshall had 22 points and 13 assists. He also did not commit a turnover and is now 10 assists away from passing Ed Cota for most assists in a season by a UNC point guard. NC State’s defensive formula was simple: Pack the lane using a zone, double teams and denying the entry pass to Tyler Zeller. That meant a lot of open looks on the perimeter and the Heels made the Wolfpack pay repeatedly. Marshall was 4-5 from three and 7-8 from the floor. Now, I don’t expect Marshall will consistently have games like this. What he does need to do is score when the defense gives him open looks. That is what he did versus NC State and even when Marshall showed he could hit the shot NCSU stayed with the defense.
Despite the made threes from Marshall, it was still a better choice than letting Tyler Zeller and John Henson go wild in the post. The biggest takeaway for UNC in this game is not Marshall as a scoring option but Marshall keeping opposing defenses honest. The more he does that, the better UNC will be.
While Marshall’s play was outstanding, what Reggie Bullock did in this came may have been almost as valuable. For the second straight game Bullock was able to hit multiple threes. In addition to his offense, Bullock collected eight rebounds and did a shutdown job on Wolfpack sharpshooter Scott Wood. NCSU’s second leading scorer was 1-5 from the floor and 1-4 from three. At this point we could probably entertain the possibility that Bullock came into the starting lineup very focused on his defensive effort. He was replacing Dexter Strickland who was known as a shutdown perimeter from defender so living up to that was his first priority. In doing so there have been games where his offense has suffered. After going 6-11 from three in his first two games as a starter Bullock struggled in the next four going 3-16. Over the past three games, two of them on the road Bullock has been 8-16 from three and playing great on the defensive end. Obviously it could have been a slump but in the grander scheme it could have simply been adjustment period that Bullock has come through nicely.
In the end, this was an odd game. UNC was outrebounded on the offensive boards 18-11 and overall rebounds were even at 40 apiece. NC State outpaced UNC in the paint by a staggering 20 points largely because Henson and Zeller were well defended at the expense of the aforementioned three point scoring from the UNC backcourt. Despite the Wolfpack’s best efforts Henson had 14 points and 13 rebounds. Zeller had 14 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. After 10 straight games of Zeller being extremely consistent he has been a tad quieter right about the time Harrison Barnes has ramped up his play. Barnes had 20 points on 7-14 shooting. He has definitely stepped up his game and one would expect that will only continue.
This was a solid win against a team that played really well against UNC’s area of strength forcing the Heels to exploit different facets of their offense to win. Some additional consistency in this regard would be really helpful in filling up the scouting reports of future opponents, especially in the NCAA Tournament when preparation time is shorter. It was also UNC’s 12th straight win against NC State, a streak that is now five years old. Roy Williams is 23-1 against NCSU in his career and 18-1 at UNC.
At this stage of the season, it looks like UNC is beginning to gel which is exactly what we’ve come to expect from a Roy Williams team.