Wednesday, February 9, 2011


UNC vs. Duke matches friends at the point

UNC's Marshall, Duke's Thornton played on same middle school squad in McLean, Va.

By Robbi Pickeral and Ken Tysiac, and
  • North Carolina's Kendall Marshall (left) and Duke's Tyler Thornton, freshmen and former middle school classmates, will match up at point guard Wednesday night in Durham. (Composite created from photos by Robert Willett, and Nick Laham, Getty Images)
  • North Carolina's Kendall Marshall (5) gives a no-look pass over his shoulder to teammate Dexter Strickland (1) in the first half against Florida State on Sunday, February 6, 2011 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. (ROBERT WILLETT-rwillett@newsobserver)
  • 2_GTL27PQTU.1+thornton.JPG.embedded.prod_affiliate.138.jpg|442
    Duke's Tyler Thornton ball handling allows teammate Nolan Smith to get the ball on offense in spots where he can be more effective. Nick Laham - Getty
    Duke's Tyler Thornton reacts after making a steal. (CHUCK LIDDY -
  • North Carolina's Kendall Marshall is surrounded by microphones as he fields questions regarding the sudden departure of teammate Larry Drew II, during a news conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on Friday February 4, 2011. Through his father, Larry Drew Sr., the junior announced Friday he was immediately leaving the Tar Heels' basketball program. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)


CHAPEL HILL - When North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall takes the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday night, the Duke-North Carolina rivalry will dominate his focus.
But when he matches up against Blue Devils ball-handler Tyler Thornton - his friend, a fellow freshman, and former middle school classmate - his thoughts might return to an earlier rivalry.
"I always have in the back of my mind, I'm 4-6 against him in high school," said Marshall, who played at Bishop O'Connell High, an Arlington, Va., rival of Thornton's Gonzaga College High in Washington, D.C.
"I always told him, in college, 'I'm going to end out on top.'"
The personal rivalry adds another wrinkle to the always-heated Duke-North Carolina showdown. The fifth-ranked Blue Devils (21-2, 8-1) will be looking to secure sole possession of first place in the ACC standings, and No. 20 North Carolina (17-5, 7-1) will be seeking its sixth straight win, not to mention revenge for last season's 82-50 embarrassment in Durham.
"Kendall, that's my brother," Thornton said. "... I went to school with him in eighth grade. And for us to make it to this point and both going to be starting on Wednesday, it's a great thing for our area and a great thing for each other."
At the beginning of the season, however, this didn't look like a very good matchup of starting point guards.
At Duke, speedy freshman Kyrie Irving ran the show from the beginning - until a toe injury eight games into the season eventually led to Thornton's insertion in the starting lineup on Feb. 2 against Maryland.
Thornton has taken some pressure off do-it-all senior Nolan Smith by guarding the ball on defense and bringing the ball up the floor.
At North Carolina, meanwhile, junior Larry Drew II was the veteran to beat out - which Marshall eventually did on Jan. 18. Then Drew's surprise decision to transfer last week in the middle of the ACC season left Marshall as the Tar Heels' only natural ball-handler.
His response Sunday was a 16-assist performance against Florida State, a Tar Heels freshman record.
"They're both leaders, and I think lead in different ways," said Stephen Turner, who coached Thornton (and against Marshall) at Gonzaga. "I think Tyler is probably the more vocal leader and leads by being a guy who's on the floor and willing to give of himself to the better of his teams, and do all the little intangibles to make his team better.
"... Kendall is the guy who has some of those similar traits as well. He right now is a guy who is playing with a lot of big-name guys on that Carolina team, and he's showing he can get the ball to his teammates in the right places."
Marshall has had a knack for that ever since he teamed with Thornton on the junior varsity squad at Potomac School in McLean, Va. Because Thornton broke his ankle playing football, they only played together during the summer.
"I ran the '1' (point), and he ran the '2' (shooting guard) and we killed it," Thornton said.
According to Marshall, they thought about going to high school together. Who would have played the point in that scenario?
"That's a good question," Marshall said, smiling.
But they remained close friends when they instead opted to play for rival teams, which is why each knows exactly what to expect out of the other Wednesday night.
Thornton calls Marshall "one of the best passers in the country," which is why Duke wants to wear him down in an attempt to stall his ability to find his teammates.
"Coach wanted me to pick him up full court and pressure him," Thornton said. "The last couple games, they really let him run the offense. He wants me to disrupt that and have him focus more on me defending him than him getting in their sets."
Marshall, meanwhile, knows Thornton takes great pride in shutting people down. Marshall said, he's going to have to stay focused and foul-free in order to push the pace and distribute.
And to get a little redemption for his team - and himself.
"Me and Tyler, we've always been close," Marshall said. "...We still talk, but when we get on the court tomorrow night, it's business."

No comments:

Post a Comment