RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina sophomore Kendall Marshall on Tuesday became the second-fastest player in ACC history reach 500 assists. He recorded his 12th double-figure assist game of the season, tying a school record. He finished with zero turnovers, the first time as a starter he’s managed that feat.
All that, and he showed that he can, indeed, knock down shots, too.
“Leading scorer? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before,’’ Marshall said after recording a career-high 22 points in the seventh-ranked Tar Heels’ 86-74 win over rival N.C. State.
“Well, not since middle school,’’ he said, laughing.
The 6-foot-4 Marshall, you see, is known for his passing. Takes pride in it. Likes to check how far he trails Iona’s Scott Machado in the national assist rankings (Machado was averaging 10.1, and Marshall 9.7, entering Tuesday’s games).
And he tends to prefer deferring to his teammates when it comes to points.
“When I have such great scorers on my team, it’s not my job to score 20 a game,’’ he explained.
But a couple of things happened Tuesday.
First, team video coordinator Eric Hoots gave the player a copy of an article from The (Raleigh) News & Observer, a local newspaper. It gave NC State’s Lorenzo Brown the edge in the point guard matchup because, according to the story, he is more multidimensional than Marshall.
“Shout out to that paper, the article they wrote today,’’ Marshall said. “I guess it gave me some extra incentive to go out there and win.”
Then Marshall’s dad gave him a pep-talk about being more confident in his shot. “Assists are easy -- because other guys finish,’’ the player explained.
And then he hit his first two shots -- both 3-pointers -- to help give his team a 10-point lead.
“Going into games, if I miss the first one or two, I’m like, ‘All right, that’s it,’” he said. “Tonight, to be able to see those first two go in, I think it really pulled the defense out.”
Which is a positive of having Marshall bury 7 of 8 shots (including a career-high four 3-pointers).
UNC coach Roy Williams has said all season that his team, which has now won 12 in a row over the Wolfpack, would be even better if Marshall could make the shots in games that he was consistently making in practice.
“I’ve seen him shoot like this -- even in the summer, he was phenomenal,’’ said forward Tyler Zeller. “He’ll go out and make 10 or 12 in a row, and we sometimes wonder why he doesn’t shoot more.”
It’s because, Marshall explained, he has so many talented scorers in forwards Zeller (14 points, eight rebounds Tuesday), Harrison Barnes (20 points) and John Henson 14 points, 13 rebounds) around him.
He knows, though, that when those guys are drawing double teams, he needs to connect in order to keep defenses honest.
And that was especially important at the RBC Center, in a game that saw State be the aggressor in the lane (it outscored the Tar Heels 42-22 in the point, and 16-8 off second-chance points).
“We just didn’t expect him to score like that,’’ Brown, who finished with 18 points and four assists, said of Marshall. “He must have been in the gym.”
Indeed, after the Wolfpack rallied from an early 14-point deficit to tie the score in the first half, it was a key 3 by Marshall that gave the Tar Heels a six-point cushion.
He opened the second half with a layup. And then another eventual 3 – with 7:34 left – gave the Tar Heels an 18-point advantage, their largest lead of the game.
His only self-described “awful” attempt: a first-half 3-point transition miss that he knows he should have passed. “If I could have that one play back, I would.”
Not that he needs to erase it. In the end, Marshall-led UNC made 10 of 19 3-pointers, its best output this month.
"Kendall was something else tonight,'' Williams said.
As usual, the sophomore's favorite stat was his assists (he now needs only nine more to tie the school record for dish-outs in a season).
His opponents, though, left impressed with all the facets of his play.
Asked if he had ever seen Marshall shoot like that, Brown replied in the affirmative:
“When he was 12.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.