GREENSBORO — North Carolina got a long, annoying look at a zone defense Friday against Vermont.
Another one is waiting in the wings against Creighton in Sundays NCAA game at Greensboro Coliseum.
The Tar Heels, now 30-5 and seeded No. 1 in the Midwest Regional, eventually pulled away from Vermont (24-12) for a 77-58 win.
But it wasnt easy at all, as Tar Heel all-American center Tyler Zeller said. They did a great job of doubling down in the post and picking up fast on the perimeter. That had a real good defensive plan, so give them credit.
So effective was the zone that Carolina shot only 41.5 percent and much of that was the result of point-black follow shots. Had it not been for a 13-point Carolina advantage on free throws (18-5), the 16th-seeded Catamounts would have been in position to pull off a Norfolk State-like shocker and squarely in the middle of Tobacco Road.
They were tough, just tough, said UNC guard Reggie Bullock. Nothing came easy today.
Thanks to playmaker Kendall Marshalls ability to get inside the Vermont zone on a few occasions, the Heels werent put in a position of having to win it from the perimeter, where they missed 13 of 18 shots behind the 3-point line.
Marshall finished with 11 points and 10 assists _ a function of sheer determination to penetrate the zone.
They made everything we tried to do difficult, Marshall said.
No. 8 seed Creighton, 29-5 after a frantic 59-58 escape against Alabama in the first game, frequently plays a similar zone much like that of Vermont. Its as though Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is orchestrating the entire operation as a defensive coordinator from afar.
We thought that our zone might be able to throw them off guard for a while, said Vermont forward Luke Apfeld. They have so much talent, though.
Vermont coach John Becker cited Marshalls role.
You take Marshalls 4-for-4 (first half) and I think they were 8-for-25, Becker said. Our defense was really good there in the first half then it got away us.
Creightons zone held Alabama to 45.8 percent shooting even though the Tide hit seven 3-pointers and committed only nine turnovers for the game.
But the primary difference between Creightons zone and that of Vermont is as simple as quickness and size. The Blue Jays have an eight-player rotation and above-average rebounding.
On the plus side for Carolina is exposure, of course.
I dont think weve played two zone teams back to back, but its good for us that we saw this one today, I think, Bullock said.
You dont see all that much zone in the ACC. Now, were going to see it a lot, but I think we can use what happened today. I think well adjust better (Sunday).
Another plus for the Heels on Sunday should be the return of John Henson, who was held out for the third straight game Friday.
Henson wont sink any 3-pointers against the Blue Jays zone, but he will get some offensive follows. Hell have to deal with the rust factor, but theres no reason to think hell sit again.
With only 32 teams left in the chase, there will be no game-time decisions any longer.