Uninterested. Choker. Overrated.
These have all been words to describe Harrison Barnes in the wake of a second straight season in which the North Carolina Tar Heels have been ousted in the Elite 8.
Too harsh? I’ll let you decide for yourself.
In Chapel Hill North Carolina, anything short of competing for a National Championship every year is considered to be a disappointment. After what many would call a season of overachievement last season in which the Tarheels were ousted by Kentucky in the Elite 8, expectations were high for the new season.
They had found a point guard in Kendall Marshall, have a budding superstar in Harrison Barnes (more on that later), and have a nucleus of front-court depth in Tyler Zeller, John Henson and James McAdoo. This seemed like a year in which the Tar Heels would be cutting down the nets in April.
After a somewhat rocky season, North Carolina seemed to be clicking just in time for the NCAA tournament. They had rallied through injuries of Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, and John Henson, and looked destined to make a deep tournament run.
That was all before Kendall Marshall went down with a wrist injury in the midst of a 87-73 win over Creighton in the round of 32. An injury that would cost him to miss North Carolina’s next two games, and likely more.
This isn’t about Kendall Marshall though, this is about Harrison Barnes. Barnes, the number one high school recruit in the country who was supposed to take Carolina to the promised land. Barnes, the same player who was named a pre-season all american before he even played a game his Freshman year. That Barnes.
The same Barnes who managed to shoot a combined 8-30 in the two biggest games of his collegiate career. Yes folks, that Barnes.
On Friday, against Ohio, the Tar Heels escaped in an overtime victory to advance to the Elite 8. It was a game in which they looked out of rhythm for much of the second half, and they were clearly missing their star point guard Kendall Marshall. Barnes shot 3-16, had 5 turnovers and looked non-existant at times. After the Tar Heels escaped thanks largely to the heroics of Reggie Bullock and Tyler Zeller, all eyes were on the 6’8 Sophomore from Ames, Iowa.
He can’t come up this small again, can he? Not in the NCAA tournament right? With a trip to the final four on the line? Oh, how fooled we all were.
Playing without Marshall for the second straight game, the Tar Heels trailed Kansas 68-66 with 3:58 left to go, Barnes at the line. This was it. It was his time to shine. After splitting a pair of free throws, the lead was down to one. Little did anybody know, but those would be the last points that North Carolina would score for the rest of the game. After a Reggie Bullock turnover led to an Elijah Johnson three pointer, the lead was three. Next, Barnes couldn’t convert a lay-up after a beautiful move to the basket.
It was over. Carolina was toast. 40 seconds later, Tyshawn Taylor converted on an and one and the Jayhawks had it won.
It was all there for Harrison Barnes, and he knows it too. He took his loss hard, and sat with a towel over his head for twenty minutes in the locker room. Trailing by one with four minutes to go in the Elite 8, it’s time to step up and quite simply, he didn’t.
You can blame the loss on Kendall Marshall’s injury, and let’s face it, if Marshall played there’s a good chance Carolina would have won that game. Even without Marshall though, this was a game they were right in until the very end. This was Barnes’ chance to prove he is that good.
Whether or not Barnes decides to return for his Junior season, it will be a long off-season for him. It’s clear that he could really benefit from another year in Chapel Hill, and if NBA scouts were watching, they might suggest he return as well.