Matt Domino recounts a harrowing weekend rooting for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels in the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight.
This past Friday night, I watched a University of North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team with four future NBA players struggle against a University of Ohio Bobcats basketball team with no future NBA players in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels struggled, because their point guard and team leader Kendall Marshall, was out of the game due to a broken wrist. I sat and watched the game, drinking High Lifes and feeling a classic mix of anxiety of anger. While I sat and felt this way I, like I normally do while watching sports, rapidly texted my friend Jeff who lives in Providence and is also a UNC fan. This is how our viewing experience panned out via text message:
Me: Here we go.
Jeff: Eating about to watch.
Me: Playing smart, using size.
Jeff: Yea I like what I see. Nice run there, Barnes hitting the three means game time and focus.
Jeff: Why isn’t White running the point?
Me: No idea. Roy is overcoaching a bit.
Jeff: He is the guy to come in for Marshall.
Me: I know. I think in 2nd half he’ll adjust and let him run it and only use Watts from time to time.
(After another of the Tar Heels’ many turnovers.)
Me: Barnes’ shot is off. I think he comes alive in 2nd.
Jeff: He needs to. This is silly.
Jeff: He looked good early.
Jeff: He is real streaky. He needs to be more consistent or just be allowed to open up.
Me: Sometimes I feel like the college game holds him back.
Jeff: Cuz he has to spread the ball around and play the team game?
Me: Sort of. I just think cause of calls and overall talent level. Pro teams space court and offense differently. He does need to study some Ray Allen footage. Moving better without the ball.
Jeff: I hear ya.
Jeff: Their half court game is stunted. Looks awful.
Me: Yep cause they got away from inside. Roy will hammer that point.
Jeff: Key is halfcourt game, lots of motion from the guys without the ball.
Jeff: No movement like you said with Barnes. Not ball movement but body. I have seen that throughout the year. Looks flat and needs more motion.
(Halftime. UNC leads by seven.)
(UNC comes out taking more ill-advised three pointers instead of throwing the ball inside to Tyler Zeller and John Henson who are far bigger and more talented than the Ohio big men.)
Me: STUPID! NO LONG SHOTS!
Jeff: Plus bad defense.
Jeff: They need to play man.
Me: Where is the pride?
Me: I am baffled.
Jeff: It’s sad for sure, but poor defense against this team.
(Reggie Bullock hits a three pointer.)
Jeff: Need more of that.
(Ohio hits ANOTHER three pointer.)
Me: 3 pointers.
Me: Barnes can’t hit shit.
Me: They make everything.
Jeff: They need to stay home on that three ball. They keep dropping in on the drive but that’s pointless.
Jeff: Stay with the three and the length down low will shot block.
Me: I still think Barnes has something left.
Me: You’re right.
Jeff: They don’t need 4 on a drive just the center and the defender guarding the drive.
(Ohio misses a three pointer.)
Jeff: See now the three ball will not last.
Jeff: UNC needs to control tempo and run out clock by dominating inside with strength.
Me: I know.
Jeff: Where the UNC movement on offense? Not there need to have composure.
(Tyler Zeller blocks an Ohio player’s layup.)
Jeff: Shot block lets go!
(Reggie Bullock shoots an ill-advised three pointer.)
Me: Three not needed.
Jeff: But a good look none the less.
Me: Has to come later in the clock.
Jeff: Roy needs to let White run the game.
(Something bad like a UNC turnover happens AGAIN!)
Me: So bad.
Me: WHERE IS WHITE???
Me: He is overcoaching.
Me: I understand none of this.
Jeff: They need the point.
Me: I hid all my knives to save my pillows.
Jeff: Well I am glad to see you have a home television!
Me: I’m miserable watching this.
(Stilman White comes back in the game.)
Jeff: There he is.
(Harrison Barnes makes a three pointer; his first shot of the second half. 57-57. 3:25 remaining.)
(Tyler Zeller gets fouled.)
Me: Double bonus.
Jeff: (Thumbs up icon).
(Tyler Zeller misses first free throw.)
Me: Have to make though.
(Tyler Zeller makes second free throw. 60-59 UNC. Ohio makes jumper. Barnes misses another three pointer. 61-60 Ohio. 1:19 remaining.)
(Reggie Bullock makes a three pointer. 63-61 UNC. :35 seconds remaining.)
Me: Ok ok.
Jeff: Here we go…
Me: Now it comes down to all your truths. Defense.
Me: My heart is exploding.
(Ohio drives and makes a layup and gets fouled.)
(Ohio player misses free throw. 63-63. :25 seconds remaining.)
Me: Have to go to Zeller inside.
(UNC calls timeout. :15 seconds remaining.)
Jeff: I like this timeout!
Jeff: Gotta go to Bullock.
Jeff: Make sure shot goes off with little time and inbound.
(Harrison Barnes drives and loses the ball.)
Me: Fuckin Barnes!
Me: Draft stock plummeting. Might end up on a team with a good PG at least.
(Game goes to overtime.)
Jeff: Wow OT. What happens here.
Me: Inside shots.
(Overtime starts. UNC jumps out to 68-63 lead.)
Me: Good shots only now. Post ups.
Me: They have to throw it up to Zeller.
Me: He’ll get fouled
Me: Going for it.
(Barnes with a lazy inbounds pass that causes Tyler Zeller to foul an Ohio player going for the ball.)
Me: Bullock was wide open in the corner!
(UNC lead is cut to 68-65. UNC offense looks terrible and Barnes gets the ball. The shot clock winds down and Barnes fakes a shot, as defender rises, he jumps into his body and gets fouled. Barnes makes both free throws. 70-65.)
Me: That’s NBA.
(UNC is able to pull away with free throws for a 73-65 win.)
Jeff: What an awful win.
And Jeff’s last text said it better than I ever could have. So we let the rest of Friday night pass and then Saturday as well, hoping for some word from ESPN or another sports news outlet that Kendall Marshall’s wrist had mended just enough to let him play. That word never came and so I watched anxiously in an apartment in New York City as UNC played Kansas in the Elite 8; Jeff was watching from his home in Providence as well. We texted during that game, but the conversation wasn’t nearly as coherent. My emotions ranged once again from excitement, to utter confusion, to rage and then finally to disappointment as Carolina could not figure out how to stay mentally tough and make smart decisions (like being aggressive on the boards and continually pounding the ball inside) and bowed out to the Jayhawks.
This loss marked the end of the Harrison Barnes era at the University of North Carolina. Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, and most likely Kendall Marshall will all declare for the NBA draft. We’ll be left with the very promising James McAdoo to lead the team along with another stellar incoming freshman class. I felt a certain attachment to this team. I can’t quite explain it, though I know it all has to do with Harrison Barnes. By all accounts Barnes’ time at North Carolina has been a disappointment. He is gifted with all the tools to be a fantastic NBA player, but it seems as though he is still figuring out how to use all those gifts with poise and passion. Barnes hardly shows emotion when he plays, he bobbles balls and loses his dribble when it’s completely beneath him to do so. And then, he’ll turn around and make a heady NBA play to get to the foul line like he did on Thursday night, or he’ll make a beautiful, graceful spinning drive to the basket and you’ll say, “I believe in Harrison Barnes.”
I believed in Harrison Barnes for the past two years and, more often than not, my belief was not rewarded. Yet, the next time I see him in on a basketball court, whether in the NBA or back at UNC, he’ll rise up with perfect form to shoot a long jump shot and, well, maybe, just maybe, I’ll be suckered into believing once again.