There were just eight teams in the country that scored more points per game than Creighton this season. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, their opponent in Sunday’s Midwest region round-of-32 game — No. 1 seed North Carolina — happened to be one of them.
Buoyed by the return of injured forward John Henson, the Tar Heels overwhelmed No. 8 seed Creighton, 87-73, in an offensive showcase that allowed North Carolina’s plethora of future NBA draft picks to shine.
Point guard Kendall Marshall (O’Connell) was at his play-making best, scoring 18 points and dishing out 11 assists to lead the high-powered Tar Heels back to the Sweet 16 for a record 31st time. Marshall now has 351 assists this year, the fourth-most in a single-season in NCAA history.
Forward Harrison Barnes added 17 points as all five North Carolina starters finished in double figures.
With both teams ready and willing to push the tempo, the game had a fast and furious pace from the start. But North Carolina grabbed control after Henson, making his first start since suffering a wrist injury in the ACC tournament quarterfinals against Maryland back on March 9, was called for a technical foul when Creighton’s Ethan Wragge hacked him hard on his heavily bandaged left wrist.
Henson shouted in Wragge’s face after the play, and the sequence seemed to rile up his teammates and the Tar Heel friendly crowd at Greensboro Coliseum, which is just 58 miles from North Carolina’s campus. The Tar Heels outscored the Blue Jays 28-12 over the next eight minutes and watched their lead grow to as much as 15 points.
Henson ended the contest with 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, and otherwise showed no ill effects from missing three games. But it was Marshall who was particularly effective, showing off a willingness to score when Creighton left him open to slow down the Tar Heels other weapons. The sophomore hit his first six shots of the game and finished 7 of 8 from the field.
Creighton managed to whittle the deficit down to eight by halftime, but the Blue Jays would never get closer. All-American Doug McDermott led Creighton with a game-high 20 points, but the Blue Jays just couldn’t seem to slow down the Tar Heels, who finished the contest shooting a blistering 50.8 percent from the field.
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