GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Red-eyed and trying to smile, North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall talked Sunday night about how proud he was of his team for advancing to the NCAA regional semifinals.
But surrounded by reporters, his fractured right wrist enveloped in ice, it was easy to see he was in pain.
“What hurts the most is that I want to be here for my team and help them out,’’ said Marshall, UNC’s creator, playmaker and one of the nation’s leading assist men. “It’s yet to be determined whether I’ll be able to or not, but we’ll find a way to get through it.”
But this time, could it be too much? Marshall, who finished with 18 points and 11 assists, was diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist after top-seeded UNC’s 87-73 victory over Creighton. A team spokesman said he would wear a soft cast Sunday night, but did not know whether the sophomore will be able to play when the Tar Heels face No. 13 seed Ohio in St. Louis on Friday.
The team is hoping there will be an update Monday.
“We’ll speak to the hand specialist tonight with Kendall and his family, and we’ll see what happens after that,’’ an obviously upset UNC coach Roy Williams said after the win.
Later, he added: “When you go to the Sweet 16, it’s supposed to be a lot more fun than this.”
The injury occurred with 10:56 left at Greensboro Coliseum when Marshall -- who naturally shoots left-handed -- was driving the lane for a right-handed layup. He was fouled hard by Bluejay Ethan Wragge, and crashed to the floor.
“I kind of got pushed to the ground,’’ Marshall said. “And I guess when I fell, I hurt my funny bone first, and that’s what I was most worried about. That’s fine. My wrist just got the worst of it.”
Asked if he thought it was a clean play, Marshall replied: “It was hard for me to tell. I was focused on making the basket. I watched the replay from one angle, and it was still hard to tell. Hopefully, he had his best intentions in mind of making a team play.”
Marshall didn’t know how bad the injury was at the time, though, making one of two free throws after a media timeout, leaving the game, and then eventually playing another seven-plus minutes.
“I felt the pain, but I didn’t want to make a big deal of it,’’ he said. “I just wanted us to get the win.”
But it may be a costly one.
Marshall is not just the team’s best creator and assist-man, he’s really the only one. Backup Dexter Strickland (who was also the team’s starting shooting guard) was lost for the season in January with a torn ACL. Freshman Stilman White has been spelling Marshall, but only to the tune of 4.2 minutes per game (before Sunday). Senior wing Justin Watts has also played point guard, but only for two stints this season.
“This is big,’’ senior forward Tyler Zeller said. “Kendall’s always been the leader of the team, he’s always been somebody who plays 35-plus minutes per game. … He’s the best point guard in the nation. He makes this team go.”
Indeed, it was Marshall who rallied the Tar Heels last year, when former starter Larry Drew II opted to transfer in the middle of the ACC season. His ability get teammates the ball in the right spots pushed the Tar Heels to a surprising run to the 2011 NCAA regional finals.
This season, his scoring blossomed, as did his ability to rack up assists. Sunday marked his sixth consecutive double-digit game. Meanwhile, he already has set the school and ACC records for assists in a season, and is a Cousy Award finalist.
So stunning was the postgame diagnosis, Williams asked the media to leave the locker room to address the team before heading to the podium for his postgame news conference. What had been a proud, celebratory atmosphere turned to shock and confusion.
“Kendall's an intricate part of the team, to say the least,’’ said junior forward John Henson, who had missed three straight games with a sprained left wrist before returning Sunday "And I know it's going to hurt, but we don't know what his status is, so we're just going to keep praying for him and hoping for the best."
Marshall was hoping Sunday, too -- somehow, for a quick recovery. Until now, he said, the worst injury of his career was a twisted ankle during his junior year of high school.
“And I thought I was ‘the man’ because I played the entire game with it, and I was like, ‘Oh, man, this is some Jordan-type stuff,’” he said, trying to smile.
If there is any positive, it’s that the injury is to his right wrist; had it been his left, Marshall said, he knows he would have no chance to play this week.
Whether he can, anyway, is a serious question.
And what happens if he can't? Even more so.
“Through being banged up, through missing players, we still find a way to go out there to compete,’’ Marshall said, still leading through the pain. “That’s a huge asset to a championship team, and that’s still what we want to be.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.