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Bullock, Zeller save North Carolina from massive upset

Mar 23, 2012, 10:10 PM EDT

North Carolina Tar Heels forward Tyler Zeller shoots over Ohio Bobcats forward Reggie Keely  in the first half of their men's NCAA Midwest Regional basketball game in St. Louis

The loss of point guard Kendall Marshall was expected by many to cause No. 1-seed North Carolina trouble in Sunday’s Elite Eight match-up with either Kansas or NC State.

But his absence nearly cost UNC tonight against Ohio as the Tar Heels turned the ball over 24 times. But thanks to Reggie Bullock and Tyler Zeller the top seed in the Midwest will play in their sixth Elite Eight in the last eight years.

Zeller scored 20 points and grabbed 23 rebounds to lead North Carolina to the 73-65 overtime victory, with Bullock adding some key buckets late and going for 17 and ten boards.

Walter Offutt led Ohio (29-8) with 26 points but point guard D.J. Cooper couldn’t get going from the field. Cooper scored ten points, shooting 3 of 20 from the field in his worst shooting performance of the season.

As a team the Bobcats shot just 32% from the field and 28% from two as UNC’s interior length proved problematic for much of the evening.

The biggest question heading into the weekend in St. Louis was how freshman Stilman White would play at the point in place of Marshall, and to be fair White was solid. Despite not making a shot from the field (0 of 4), White dished out six assists and did not register a turnover.

The problem for UNC that came as a result of Marshall’s absence was that guys who can normally count on the sophomore making their decisions “easy” had to make more plays on their own, and that nearly got the Tar Heels beat.

Zeller led the way with six turnovers as Ohio increased the amount of attention they gave him defensively in the second half, and Harrison Barnes had five as part of a night the sophomore wing will likely want to forget.

Barnes scored five of his 12 points in overtime but shot just 3 of 16 from the floor for the game. And with the biggest weakness in his game being the drop in efficiency when he has to create for himself, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he struggled with Marshall out of the lineup.

Head coach Roy Williams stated during the post-game TV interview that he doubted Marshall would be ready for Sunday, and given how tonight went North Carolina should be very concerned going into the regional final. But most importantly the Tar Heels were able to survive to play another day.

“I think we feel like we got away with one,” said Zeller. “Ohio played the better game, they hit a lot of shots, I think we just were able to make a lot of plays at the end that made us capable of pulling it out.”

Raphielle Johnson is the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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