NEWARK, N.J. – Catch ’em if you can.
After repeated early, deep deficits this postseason, North Carolina flipped the script Friday night, dismantling Marquette 81-63 in an East Regional semifinal that was over before the half.
North Carolina got off to its customary slow start, then seized control to move within a game of reaching the Final Four for the third time in four years.
“I looked up at the clock and it was 10-8 their favor, and the next time I looked at the clock is when I went off at halftime and it was 40-15,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I knew we were doing very well to say the least.”
Those 15 first-half points were the second-fewest allowed by North Carolina in a half in 144 NCAA tournament games, and the Marquette’s 20 percent shooting from the field came on 6-of-30 shooting that was the second lowest by an opponent in an NCAA tournament game.
Just a year after missing the NCAA party, the kids from Chapel Hill are ready to steal the show.
Tyler Zeller had 27 points and 15 rebounds, while John Henson added 14 points and 12 rebounds for the second-seeded Tar Heels in the rout at the Prudential Center. Harrison Barnes added 20 points and six rebounds.
North Carolina (29-7) will face Kentucky on Sunday for a spot in the Final Four in Houston.
“It means a great deal to all of us,” Zeller said. “We’ve been working for this all year and finally put ourselves in a situation and we have to go out and play Sunday.”
The Tar Heels looked scary against Marquette.
Everyone knew they could run up and down the court with the best in college basketball. Friday’s dominating defensive performance was an eye-opener.
“I still think we can play better,” Carolina guard Dexter Strickland said. “We haven’t played to our potential.”
Marquette’s miserable game meant the Big East’s contingent of 11 teams has dipped to one – Connecticut.
“We just couldn’t do anything right in the first half, and that’s just not the way we play,” said Davante Gardner who led the Golden Eagles with 16 points and six rebounds. “It was uncharacteristic of us, and actually, it was pretty embarrassing.”
Marquette had only two bad games down the stretch, and both came in this building. Three weeks ago, they were blown out by a sub-.500 Seton Hall team in a game that seemingly put the Golden Eagles out of the NCAA tournament.
Marquette, however, played well enough in the Big East Conference tournament to make the show then knocked off Xavier and No. 3 seed Syracuse.