CHAPEL HILL – There have been a lot of North Carolina fans calling for freshman point guard Kendall Marshall to start.
There will almost certainly be a lot more after his performance during North Carolina’s come-from-behind, 64-61 victory against Virginia Tech on Thursday night.
Marshall had nine points and nine assists – with zero turnovers - while logging a career-high 24 minutes in North Carolina's 64-61 win against Virginia Tech, a line that coach Roy Williams called “pretty impressive.”
But Marshall -- who re-entered the game with 5:33 left, after starter Larry Drew II (3 points, 3 assists, 16 minutes) picked up his fourth foul -- was most impressive as the final seconds of the game ticked down.
With the Tar Heels gripping a 62-61 lead after yet another 3-pointer from Hokies guard Malcolm Delaney, UNC forward Tyler Zeller missed a shot – and Delaney got his hands on the ball, yet again, with about 8 seconds left.
“I think I saw the ball was tipped out to Delaney, and there was a big man near him,’’ Marshall said. “ … But I knew I had to get up there and defend him, and stay in front of him, and hope that it [the shot] would come off.”
The shot did come off. And with three seconds left, Marshall got fouled, went to the free throw line, and buried two foul shots to seal the victory.
“Kendall, he’s just the gas to the car right now,’’ said freshman Harrison Barnes. “He finds guys, gets the ball to them, he’s run the show the second half pretty much.”
Indeed, Marshall also buried a 3-pointer and threw three key assists -- two to Barnes, one to Tyler Zeller -- in the final five minutes of the game to key the victory.
Even so, Williams has seemed hesitant to make a switch at point guard – noting since the beginning of the year that Drew is the better defensive player. One play, against a player he didn’t guard for much of the game, might not immediately change Williams' mind about Marshall’s defense or reserve status. But it could give the coach more food for thought.
“I think I’ve improved a lot [on defense],’’ Marshall said. “I think when I came in, I was more of a liability. But now I think I’m to the point where I can help out.”