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GREENSBORO, N.C. – North Carolina looked every bit worthy of being placed among the top two contenders for the NCAA title during its impressive 87-73 Midwest Region victory over Creighton on Sunday at Greensboro Coliseum.
The game itself left no questions regarding UNC's legitimacy.
But the postgame news conference did.
"Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first," Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said to open his news conference. "Kendall [Marshall] has a fractured wrist."
And with that, North Carolina's run through the bracket looks a lot less likely. Marshall, UNC's sophomore point guard, is, as Creighton coach Greg McDermott said Sunday, "the straw that stirs the drink." He has scored in double figures in each of the past six games, while also posting double-digit assists in five of those contests. In Sunday's win, which sent UNC to the Sweet 16, he finished with 18 points (on 7-of-8 shooting), 11 assists and four rebounds.
[ Recap: North Carolina beats Creighton 87-73 ]
Marshall was hurt midway through the second half. He was driving to the basket when Creighton's Ethan Wragge delivered a hard foul, knocking Marshall to the ground. Marshall bounced back up and continued to play, and there were no apparent signs of an injury (except to him).
"I didn't want to come out. Coach asked me if I wanted to, and I told him, 'No,' " Marshall told reporters. "But, obviously, late in the game it got to me a little bit. … Nobody wants to get injured. I think the thing that hurts the most is that I won't be able to be there for my team and help them out. It's still to be determined whether I'll be able to or not, but we'll find a way to get through it."
Marshall hit one of two free throws, then left the game briefly before returning and playing about 7 more minutes before leaving for good with 1:54 left.
"All we know right now is it's a fracture," Marshall said. "Luckily it's my right hand. If it was my left hand, then we'd probably have some problems. But we'll take it day by day and figure it out."
His status for North Carolina's game against Ohio on Friday in the round of 16 in St. Louis is unclear. Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said medical staff planned to put Marshall in a cast Sunday night for his comfort.
Dennis Marshall, Kendall's father, told CBS.com on Sunday night that his son would have surgery Monday morning to insert a screw in the injured wrist.
North Carolina already is dealing with season-ending injuries to guards Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland, and weathered a three-game absence by starting forward John Henson, also with a wrist injury. Henson's first game back was Sunday's victory.
"You just hate it for the kid," Williams said. "My gosh, we have handled a little bit of adversity the last two years and I'm just so proud of my group. But he's been a big-time basketball player for us."
Marshall averages 9.7 assists per game, but his meaning to the Tar Heels is immeasurable.
"He's in total control," McDermott said. "His facial expressions don't change. He's a point guard that plays the game the right way and I have tremendous respect for him, and he really made us pay today."
To state that Marshall's impact is immeasurable might be inaccurate. It'll be measured quite easily if Marshall isn't playing next week in St. Louis. Stilman White or Justin Watts will take over the point guard duties. Watts, a senior, averages 7.1 minutes per game; White, a 160-pound freshman, averages 4.2 minutes per game. Combined, they have 24 assists this season.
And while UNC should be just fine against its Sweet 16 foe – 13th-seeded Ohio – a Final Four might be a stretch for a team that appeared primed to still be playing on the final night of the season.
"Kendall's an intricate part of the team, to say the least," Henson said. "And I know it's going to hurt a little bit, but we don't know what his status is, so we're just going to keep praying for him and hoping for the best."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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