CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- North Carolina’s John Henson has emerged as the most imposing and game-changing defensive player in the NCAA tournament.
Henson deflected an inbounds pass from Justin Holiday that ended up in the hands of Dexter Strickland, forcing Washington to foul and put him at the free-throw line with a one-point lead and 5.4 seconds left.
Henson’s deflection prevented Washington from getting off a shot with an attempt to win the game.
Henson finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the Tar Heels’ 86-83 victory over Washington in an East regional third-round game.
Henson nearly put himself at risk, though, when he almost goaltended a last-second shot by Isaiah Thomas.
Still, Henson’s presence was the difference for the Tar Heels in the best game so far of the Charlotte regional, matching two teams that love to get up and down the court and don’t mind pushing the basketball with little attention to defense -- except for Henson along the back line.
While North Carolina relied on Henson to create opportunities, the Huskies couldn’t have made worse decisions at the end of the game. Thomas’ last shot was the only time he touched the ball in the final 10 seconds when the Huskies had three chances to score and either take the lead or tie the game.
Inexplicably, Thomas didn’t touch the ball as Venoy Overton dribbled the length of the court and put up a forced shot with 7.4 seconds remaining. The shot went out of bounds -- fortunately for the Huskies it went off UNC. Then came Holiday’s mental mistake of trying to pass OVER Henson when Henson is the tallest player on the court.
After Strickland then converted the two free throws for the three-point lead, Overton again took the ball and threw up an errant shot from near halfcourt with over a second left when he still had time on the drive to pass ahead and get a much better shot or at least find Thomas.
Thomas is Washington’s best player and the one you'd want to take a shot in this situation. Or at the very least, Thomas could have created a shot for shooters, which UW had many of during the game like C.J. Wilcox or Terrence Ross. The Huskies played well on the glass but ultimately couldn’t execute down the stretch.
Key stat: Henson had four blocks and two steals. That’s enough for me.
Key player: Tyler Zeller scored 23 and Barnes scored 22 and made buckets when the Tar Heels needed them most.
Shout out: Washington made shots and the 10 3s that the Huskies converted were a difference in this game and put UNC on its heels.
What’s next: Washington goes home after a nice late run. North Carolina moves on to Newark to play the winner of Syracuse-Marquette.