And there is perhaps the most unkind aspect of Marshall’s fractured right wrist: He was playing his best basketball at the most important time of the year.
Marshall, the Tar Heels’ sublime point guard, broke the scaphoid bone in his right (non-shooting) wrist during the second half of Sunday’s 87-73 NCAA tournament victory over Creighton. He continued to play after the hard foul and fall, but his status for Friday’s Midwest Regional semifinal against Ohio is questionable.
Marshall scored a team-high 18 points Sunday, more than double his 7.9 average, on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. He passed for a game-high 11 assists, extending his ACC single-season record to 351, a per-game average of 9.8.
“He's starting to look for his shot a little bit more because it's going in more,” coach Roy Williams said. “Earlier in the season, he didn't look for it as much because when he shot it, it wasn't going in. You can look at the stats through the first 15 games and then through 25 games and then through 36 games, and you'll see that as the season has continued along, his shot has gone in more often and more often and his percentages have just continued to rise.”
For the season, Marshall is shooting 45.5 percent. But during his six-game binge, he is shooting 58.3 percent (35-of-60) and averaging 14.8 points and 10.3 assists.
When he’s that efficient, the Tar Heels border on unfair. Yes, they lost to Florida State in the ACC tournament final during this run, but that was without 6-foot-11 John Henson, an acute absence against the Seminoles’ NBA-sized front line.
Opposing ACC coaches have raved about Marshall throughout the season.
“Ty brought it at warp speed,” Greenberg said. “Kendall brings it at warp speed, but he does it with the ball in the air. We used to say you have to outnumber the ball in transition against Ty Lawson. But Kendall is a different problem because you do have to run with the shooters, and you've got to see the basketball. …
“It's a lot faster to pass the ball up the floor than dribble the ball up the floor. He's probably the best I've ever seen at pitching it ahead.”
“I’ve known Kendall Marshall since he was in the sixth grade,” Larranaga said. “He used to come by our arena at George Mason University and actually work out with our players when he was a youngster. He was born to be a point guard. He really knows how to deliver the ball, and he has outstanding receivers at every position.”
Marshall’s is the fourth major injury to strike these Tar Heels. Wings Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland tore ACLs, the former in July, the latter at Virginia Tech in January; then Henson went down in the ACC tournament.
“You just hate it for the kid,” Williams said. “My gosh, we have handled a little bit of adversity the last two years, and I'm just so proud of my group. But he's been a big time basketball player for us.”
Even without Marshall – Stilman White and/or Justin Watts would replace him -- you can envision top-seeded North Carolina surviving 13th-seeded Ohio on Friday. But winning four more games and the national title?
“When you go to the Sweet 16,” Williams said as his news conference concluded, “it's supposed to be a lot more fun than this.”
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns, including one from Creighton-North Carolina.