GREENSBORO COLISEUM—This may or may not be one of the greatest understatements in ACC Tournament history. Fresh after dropping 40 points on Clemson, Harrison Barnes said “I tried to fill in for what the team needs. Today we had a lack of production on the offensive end and I tried to make up for that.”
Barnes filled in with a legendary performance, becoming the first Tar Heel in more than 40 years to tally 40 points in an ACC Tournament game to lead Carolina back from yet another double digit deficit in the second half. Barnes nailed 12 of 17 field goals, including six of eight from three-point land, to go along with 10 of 11 free throws to get his 40.
More important than the total was the timing. With Carolina down five at 73-68 with 1:22 to play, Barnes sank a heavily contested three from left of center to cut the lead to two. Without that shot, Carolina probably loses the game. Instead, Clemson had a shot clock violation on the next possession, giving the Tar Heels a chance to tie. Tyler Zeller duly delivered with a short hook shot over Jerai Grant. Zeller, after going scoreless the first 18 minutes, finished with 14 points.
Clemson had the last shot of regulation but good defense by Leslie McDonald, playing with four fouls, forced Demontez Stitt to settle for a fadeaway jumper that missed badly.
Carolina then siezed control of overtime immediately, as Barnes hit another three from the right wing after excellent hustle by Dexter Strickland to claim an offensive board when John Henson’s desperation three at the end of the shot clock missed. Kendall Marshall then added one of his two field goals for the game, a three, to make it 79-73, before Barnes chipped in yet again with a three-point play. After scoring the first nine points of the extra session, the Heels hung on, though they had a slight scare when Zeller almost turned the ball over inbounding the ball with 10 seconds to play.
Barnes’s exploits were so ridicuous that the ACC Fans Guide immediately issued a special “Harrison Barnes Edition” about the preformance. From that document we learn that Barnes scored more points than any freshman in tournament history, the most in any semifinal game ever and the fifth-most total. It is also the highest point total for a player in the ACC this season. Maybe Barnes will get some votes for first-team All-American after all.
Barnes’s understated quote is consistent with his well-honed media profile. He gives straight-up answers in interviews. This is not to say he has nothing to say—ask him about basketball in detail and he’ll give a detailed, thoughtful answer. But usually he keeps his feelings to himself.
Barnes’s teammates see a different side though. Both Kendall Marshall and Zeller described him as a goofy, joking guy off the court, who delivers hilarious lines in a flat Iowa deadpan. Barnes did get a bit excited in the first half and did a little wing flap as an apparent tribute to his alter ego, the Black Falcon. But maybe he deserves to be called the Iowan Assassin. Whatever it is Tar Heels fans call him, they need to do it fast because on the evidence so far, this may be Barnes’s only visit to the ACC Tournament.