DURHAM, N.C. – North Carolina senior Tyler Zeller knew he was going to hear it from the Cameron Crazies on Saturday. Not only was it his final game at that rival arena, but he was the one who missed two free throws, accidentally tipped in a Duke shot and was the defender on Austin Rivers’ game-winning 3-pointer the previous time these two teams met.
But frankly, he said he expected more than the chant of “Zel-ler!” and “You let the whole team down!”
“I heard it all,’’ the 7-foot ACC-Player-of-the-Year candidate said, smiling after his team prevailed 88-70 to win the league regular season title. “In warm-ups, you hear a lot.
“I was thinking about it last night, and I was kind of disappointed. They had like, three chants, and they were done. ‘Cody’s better’ was the third one, and I was like, ‘that’s it?’ I was just expecting a lot of stuff. … I just went out, and took it for what it is, and we won.”
UNC coach Roy Williams said he knew the forward was determined, even before he opened the game by scoring four of the team’s first eight points.
“You watch him during warm-ups, there was not one smile on that young man,’’ Williams said. “There was not one second where he wasn’t focused. He went out … at the opening tip and there wasn’t a doubt my mind that he was 100 percent into that game."
In the end, Zeller finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, scoring five points late to thwart Duke’s comeback before he fouled out with 51 seconds to go. On the bench, as the game wound down, he smiled.
“I was pretty relaxed, I was pretty confident in my team,’’ he said.
CLOSING IN: Saturday’s game was only the second time this season point guard Kendall Marshall finished as UNC’s leading scorer (20 points). He also recorded 10 assists, giving him 299 for the year. He’s now five away from breaking the ACC single-season record.
“The good thing is – and I told him this – he can play a heck of a lot better, because he made some bonehead plays in there,’’ Williams said. “But 20 points and 10 assists – I don’t know how the official scorer scored it but the one he shot over the basket that [Zeller] rebounded was a pass.
“He was really big for us, to say the least.”
QUOTEWORTHY: UNC sophomore Harrison Barnes, when asked why he flicked his ear toward the fans after the game: “They were so loud and enthusiastic all game and I was just wondering if that was going to continue. They didn't seem too happy; a little quiet. It's unfortunate for them. It's really unfortunate."