GREENSBORO — N.C. State had already seized the NCAA Tournament center stage by the time North Carolinas basketball team got to Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday.
Thanks to the Wolfpacks rousing win over Georgetown in Columbus, Ohio earlier in the afternoon, the Tar Heels were thrown into a rare second-fiddle situation for their game against Creighton.
That being the case, there was little doubt that the Tar Heels would respond in kind. Favored by nine points, their 87-73 win was far more impressive than Fridays victory over Vermont.
With John Henson back in the lineup and effective from the opening jump ball, the Tar Heels (31-5) basically had their tickets punched to St. Louis and the Midwest Regional semifinals on Friday against Ohio by halftime.
Henson had missed the previous three games with a left-wrist injury that was suffered against Maryland in the ACC Tourney quarterfinals on March 9 in Atlanta.
There was no rust on the 6-foot-11 junior forward. With 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots, he picked the Bluejays (29-6) apart with relative ease.
It felt great. I was totally comfortable, Henson said.
And as for States win to qualify for the St. Louis games, Henson was gracious to a fault. Oh, thats great about State, he said. We want the ACC to be as visible as it can be.
But this being March and this being the ACC, the day had to end with even more drama.
North Carolina playmaker and key player Kendall Marshall suffered a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist.
Keep in mind that Marshall is left-handed, but his status for Fridays game in St. Louis Edward Jones Dome wont be known for a while, and Carolina coach Roy Williams was obviously emotional when he discussed the injury during post-game remarks.
But North Carolina without Kendall Marshall could be like say North Carolina with Larry Drew II running the show.
Since Marshall took over for Drew (who transferred to UCLA) midway through last season, the Tar Heels have been among the best teams in the country.
The Marshall injury was being diagnosed before most of his teammates were aware of the severity of the injury.
The injury took place, according to North Carolina sports information department officials, with 10:56 left in the game and the Tar Heels up 67-50 after an ensuing free throw by Marshall.
After the collision with Creightons Ethan Wragge, Marshall played on but didnt attempt another field-goal.
Something to keep in mind is that in March, basketball players sometimes are able to put mind over pain. Almost everyone in North Carolina feared for the health of N.C States David Thompson after an awful-looking spill in the 1974 East Regional in Raleigh. A few days later, he led N.C. State to wins over UCLA and Marquette for the title in Greensboro.
The Wolfpacks C.J. Williams was dealing with an ankle issue Sunday against Georgetown but went 32 minutes and scored 14 points.
Marshall and Williams have similar resolves.
If theres a way any way for Marshall to play in St. Louis, it would take a court order to keep the guy off the court.
Like Henson, hell be an inch away from the accelerator from the second the flight leaves for St. Louis.
Whatever develops before Friday, just remember that this is March and this is Tobacco Road. This is the sort of high hoops drama that sets us apart from the rest of the normal world this time of the year.