GREENSBORO, N.C. -- As one Wrist Watch began Sunday night, another one ended.
Somewhat lost in the news of point guard Kendall Marshall’s fractured right wrist -- and whether or not he will be able to play in the NCAA Sweet 16 in St. Louis on Friday -- was the return of forward John Henson after a three-game hiatus because of a sprained left wrist.
Wearing tape and a molded splint to protect his sensitive injury, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year recorded his 17th double-double of the season (13 points, 10 rebounds, plus four blocked shots) -- and inspired his team, in more ways than one.
With the score tied 11-11 early, Henson was fouled by Ethan Wragge (the same Bluejay who fouled Marshall hard later in the game, resulting in Marshall's broken wrist). Creighton’s Grant Gibbs was also defending on the play, and ended up slapping down on the ball -- and on Henson’s still-tender wrist. That earned an exchange of words with a not-so-smiling Henson, and eventually a whistle.
“I didn’t necessary like the play when the 3-man, after the whistle blew, slapped my wrist a few times,” Henson said. “… I don’t think it was anything dirty, but they targeted the wrist, they tested it a few times early.”
And it really peeved off his Tar Heels teammates, as well.
“I don’t know if it was intentional or not,’’ forward James Michael McAdoo said of Gibbs hitting Henson’s wrist. “… But it did light a fire underneath us.”
After the Bluejays made one of the two technical free throws, UNC responded with a 28-12 run to take its largest lead of the first half (39-24). Marshall, his wrist still well at that point, scored nine points in a row for the Tar Heels during the breakaway, as the Tar Heels played with their scariest-for-foes emotion: inspired anger.
“Just knowing that John had been out for three games … we knew he was out there battling with his wrist,’’ shooting guard Reggie Bullock said. “And we knew if he was out there battling, we had to have his back. So when that happened, we increased our intensity on both ends of the floor. Our shots were falling, we were getting out in transition, getting easy steals, getting easy buckets."
Indeed, it looked as if UNC was clicking again on all cylinders, like a team that would not only reach the Final Four, but have a shot to win the whole tournament.
Until Marshall’s injury, and all the questions surrounding whether he can play against 13th-seeded Ohio, and how much.
It was a weird scene: Before coach Roy Williams cleared the locker room of media to give his team the bad news about Marshall’s wrist, dozens of reporters surrounded Henson to talk about his comeback. (He said his wrist was feeling good after the game, and was glad the team could drive instead of fly home, so it wouldn't swell.)
When the locker room re-opened, Henson was left pretty much alone, still icing his hand, the swarm having moved to a red-eyed Marshall.
“John,” a team member joked, “your wrist is old news now.”
A new Wrist Watch had begun.
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.