The scene was set perfectly. 21,750 screaming fans in the house that Dean built. The big lights and big hype of ESPN. A top 10 showdown. Inside the Dome, the atmosphere was electric, with all of us hoping that November 29th would be the date of yet another Carolina victory over a #1 ranked opponent.
And then, Ohio State couldn’t miss. It’s a familiar refrain for long-time Carolina fans. How many times has it happened that teams shoot lights out against Carolina? On Wednesday night, Ohio State was raining three pointers from every angle on the court. They were driving and dishing for open looks, and when UNC defenders jumped out to begin contesting the shots, the Buckeyes simply drove by the unbalanced defense for easy layups.
All of a sudden, the atmosphere didn’t feel so perfect. Down by 12, Carolina needed an answer. Someone who would step up and do whatever was necessary to stop the guys in red and kickstart the Carolina team.
In other words, Carolina needed a sophomore.
On a team loaded with fabulous freshmen, it’s quickly becoming apparent that the sophomore class of Tarheels is the real barometer of success and failure. Led by the uber-agressive Tyler Hansbrough, any of the of the second year Tarheels is capable of carrying the team on a given night.
With all due respect to Hansbrough’s monster stats and Frasor’s clutch outside shooting, the man of the evening was do-whatever-you-need guard Marcus Ginyard.
Need tough, in your shirt defense on those torrid Buckeye shooters? Ginyard had you covered. How about a tip in, follow up, or key defensive board? Again, Marcus was your man.
It was a consummate glue-guy performance by Ginyard, one that allowed Carolina to quietly close the Ohio State lead to just four points by halftime. As Eric Montross put it after the game, “We were leaking bad, and Marcus came through a put his finger in the dike.”
And then, in the second half, it all came together. For the first time all season, the talented collection of Carolina cagers played with a purpose and flow that we’d all dreamed about when reading the preseason prognostications. From the opening seconds of the second stanza, the Tarheels showed the necessary intensity required to win against a high level opponent, and the fruits of the hard work were countless displays of basketball beauty by a host of sublimely talented players.
Everyone, it seems, got in on the act; the bright lights of primeime suited Carolina’s freshmen just fine. There was cool Wayne Ellington, stopping on a dime and dropping perfectly parabolic jump shots through the net. And jet-quick Ty Lawson showing that he has plenty of poise and passion in spades as well. Then there was Brandan Wright showcased jump hooks galore, and freshman center Deon Thompson playing his best game to date.
But in the midst of it all, one thing remained the same – Marcus Ginyard. Up until the final whistle, Ginyard was relentless, and continued to get every tip in, steal, and deflection necessary for victory. As Ginyard and Hansbrough’s trapping defense in the final two minutes led to a Wayne Ellington layup and foul, it was clear that we’d seen this sort of thing before. Ginyard’s play was undoubtedly Lynch-esque, and the leader of Carolina’s 1993 championship team was in the Dean Dome to see it.
As the final seconds rolled off the clock, a positively giddy Ty Lawson jumped up and down in front of the Carolina bench and it was obvious from the expressions on the other players’ faces that this was no ordinary win. This team wanted badly to bounce back from the disappointing experience in New York, and it needed a clutch performance to build some confidence for a long season yet to come.
The core of this team, after all, is made up of young men who are not yet twenty years of age. And for the fabulous class of freshmen, this was the first taste of big time college basketball success.
From the looks of things, they liked the taste – and that can only mean good things if you’re a Carolina fan.