GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Kendall Marshall's ability to make plays has transformed North Carolina into a Final Four contender.
If there was ever an example of how a playmaker can create an opportunity to win a game, Marshall conducted a clinic during the final seconds of UNC's ACC quarterfinal win over Miami Friday.
Marshall didn't pull up for a game-winning 3-pointer or try to shake back for a midrange jumper. Marshall knows what he should do in these situations. He has to get to the rim.
Marshall drove inside, drew a defender off Tyler Zeller and dumped a pass to his big man for a layup at the buzzer to give the surging Tar Heels a thrilling 61-59 victory over the Hurricanes after the Tar Heels had trailed by 19 in the second half.
"My goal is to get to the basket," Marshall said. "I knew then I could just figure it out. I'm at my best when I'm making plays and get to the rim. I knew John [Henson] and Z could clean it up. It just so happened that Z's man helped out."
The Tar Heels have won two games this season with Harrison Barnes making the game-winning 3-pointer. He did it to win at Miami and then to beat Florida State in Tallahassee. Marshall admitted that the original play was to get the ball to Barnes. Miami had already tried to shorten Marshall's decision time after it had committed a turnover by fouling him twice in the final 18 seconds because the Hurricanes weren't in the bonus yet.
"It's one of those things that people always make fun of me for not dunking, but it paid off on that possession," Zeller said. "I had to shoot it as fast as possible. I knew as soon as I let it go that I had gotten it off in time just because I knew the buzzer had gone off after it left my hand."
North Carolina coach Roy Williams made the switch to the freshman Marshall from junior Larry Drew II after the Tar Heels lost by 20 points at Georgia Tech on Jan. 16. North Carolina has lost one game since the switch -- at Duke on Feb. 9.
Marshall finished with 10 assists Friday.
"There's no question that Kendall continues to be the point guard we need him to be," Barnes said. "He's done a great job."
The Tar Heels' comeback was something. Barnes and Marshall hit two 3s each in the second half, and the Tar Heels made seven 3s in the final 20 minutes. Miami continued to hold on for its life in the second half, but the Tar Heels continued to peck away at the lead. The Hurricanes' final offensive possession ended in a turnover without a shot, as Adrian Thomas mishandled a pass around the perimeter.
The loss left the Hurricanes devastated in the locker room. Miami's players were all lined up in their chairs with their white sweat suits on and no words being spoken until they were approached.
It was just 24 hours earlier that Miami came back from 10 points down with under a minute left against Virginia in the first round of the ACC tournament. Miami won in overtime.
"We were high yesterday, and today we're at a low," Miami center Reggie Johnson said. "For them to come back like they did says a lot about their program. It hurts. It hurts. We definitely felt that if we kept playing we could win this tournament."
Miami's Durand Scott said the Tar Heels made 3s and "didn't run any plays, it was just their key guys making shots," in the comeback. He said the Canes' comeback against Virginia was spurred by the defense. But this was a late offensive display from the Tar Heels, followed by some missed free throws and poor offensive execution by Miami.
Miami coach Frank Haith was stunned after the game but credited Carolina.
"We were focused on Harrison Barnes [on the last play], and I thought they would try to get him the ball and let him try to create a situation," Haith said. "It just seemed like they made some big shots. They just made plays."
North Carolina dug itself an immense hole that it was able to climb out of and as a result is still alive for a No. 1 seed when the bracket is announced Sunday.
"We want to win the ACC tournament, and I said at halftime that we didn't want a bad taste in our mouth going into the NCAA tournament," Marshall said.
No need to worry about that anymore. The Tar Heels now have the momentum needed, their confidence buoyed and the continued maturation of a pair of freshmen in Marshall and Barnes that could carry this team to Houston by the end of the month.