Post-Drew, Carolina pride was evident on Sunday

CHAPEL HILL/SMITH CENTER — Minutes after North Carolina’s 89-69 victory over Florida State on Sunday afternoon, two words echoed through the Dean Dome concourse: “Drew who?”

From the ushers, to the folks at concessions, to the students and alumni — surely to Charles Kuralt, too, if he were still alive — consensus was expressed. The Tar Heels are no worse without Larry Drew, and they may be even better.

Drew, now arguably the most notorious point guard in program history, left a legacy of shame in the eyes of fans. The guy who replaced him the starting lineup and ultimately led (indirectly) to his shocking departure, freshman Kendall Marshall, didn’t give his predecessor any cushion. Marshall was sensational against the Seminoles, scoring nine points and handing out 16 assists against only three turnovers.

Marshall’s assist numbers were the most ever for a Carolina freshman in a single game, and they were the most for any UNC player in an ACC contest.

His generalship of the offense spearheaded an attack that connected on 56 percent shooting, including a scalding 64 percent in the second half. Florida State entered the game as the nation’s best team in terms of defensive field goal percentage, allowing only 36 percent on the season. The ‘Noles now have allowed a team to shoot 50 percent or better against them only twice in the past 91 games.

Four Tar Heels scored at least 15 points. Harrison Barnes continues to improve, and his 17 points accompanied a strong 10 rebounds against a highly physical foe. John Henson did his usual thing, contributing 16 points, 10 rebounds and a blocked shot. Dexter Strickland, who will be forced to play backup point guard in addition to starting on the wing, went for 15 points, six rebounds and four assists, with three turnovers.

Minutes distribution became another fascinating aspect of the game. Roy Williams utilized Marshall for 36 minutes — Marshall claimed to vomit at halftime — while Strickland played 35 minutes. To the surprise of most, wings Reggie McDonald and Leslie McDonald combined for only 23 minutes.

Williams said after the game that he hopes to cut those minutes back for the starting backcourt, but that statement assumes those two won’t always synergize so effectively.

Looking ahead, Carolina travels to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday night. The Tar Heels would have been huge underdogs a couple weeks ago, but now? It’s worth watching, at the minimum.

Florida State’s defensive aggression and quickness actually served as good preparation for the Blue Devils, although Duke’s scoring ability far surpasses that of the Seminoles.

To view the UNC/FSU box score, click here.