CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina is preparing to play without injured point guard Kendall Marshall.
The Tar Heels just haven’t figured out how yet.
Coach Roy Williams said Tuesday that his team’s “preparation is 100 percent” to go without Marshall after the pass-first guard had surgery to repair his broken right wrist.
Marshall’s status remains unclear for the Midwest Regional semifinal Friday night in St. Louis, the coach said.
“You’ve got me between a rock and a hard place,” Williams said. “I cannot give you any answers. I’ve given everybody all the answers I can give because I’ve said honestly, I do not know.”
The left-handed sophomore broke his wrist on a drive in the second half of a win against Creighton on Sunday night in the Tar Heels’ second NCAA tournament game.
Call it the latest bad break for a team that lost its No. 2 ballhandler, Dexter Strickland, to a season-ending knee injury, then played three postseason games without two-time ACC defensive player of the year John Henson after he sprained his left wrist in the conference tournament.
“We didn’t come all this way just to lay down,” Henson said.
If Marshall can’t play against Ohio — and that seems likely the case — one option for top-seeded UNC (31-5) could be Stilman White.
The lightly tested freshman has gone from being one of the last players to receive a scholarship to being Marshall’s primary backup — to possibly starting in the regional semifinals.
“Stilman’s grown a lot. When he first got out there, we were a little scared that he might have an anxiety attack or pass out,” teammate Harrison Barnes said with a laugh. “He looks more fluid out there and he can kind of push the ball and get up and down.”
White — who is stepping away from the program after this semester to begin a two-year church mission — says he turned down scholarship offers from BYU, Utah State and UNC Wilmington and picked North Carolina last year after point guard Larry Drew II abruptly transferred to UCLA.
The injury to Strickland, the team’s No. 2 ballhandler, pushed him up the depth chart. Now the injury to Marshall could elevate him into an even bigger role.
“I’m ready to do whatever the coaching staff asks me to do,” White said. “I have all the confidence in the world that I can do whatever they ask me to do, and hopefully, Kendall will be ready this weekend. If he’s not, the coaches will figure something out.”
Another option could be Justin Watts, a versatile 6-foot-5 senior from nearby Durham who averages roughly 7 minutes and has made three starts in four years.
“Stilman has basically had everything thrown at him all year,” Williams said. Watts, he added, “has had limited portions thrown at him.
“So we’ll throw a few more portions at him and try to get him a tremendous number of repetitions Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday in practice, and see if we can get them up to speed, because our preparation is 100 percent preparation to play without Kendall.”
Marshall has been the Tar Heels’ most irreplaceable player, leading the fast-paced offense with his see-everything court vision and perfect pitch-ahead passes in transition.
He was hurt when he drove to the paint and was knocked to the floor by Creighton’s Ethan Wragge with 10:56 left. He 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.
Bluejays coach Greg McDermott later called Williams to say there was no intent to injure Marshall.
Marshall had surgery Monday to insert a screw into his wrist, and the next day his father Dennis told The Associated Press in a text message that his son is “doing much better” and experiencing less pain. He added that his son was improving and had “slept through the night.”
The Dumfries, Va., native is a second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick who has 351 assists in 36 games, the best season total in league history and fourth most in NCAA history.
The pass-first point guard is averaging about eight points and 10 assists, though he has stepped up his offense recently and scored in double figures the past six games. He had 18 points and 11 assists in the 87-73 win against the Bluejays, his fifth double-double in that span.
“I’ve got to try to come up with a way to replace somebody that is darn hard to replace,” Williams said.