NCAA Tournament

Tar Heels’ Barnes faces up to high expectations

He has learned to deal with the criticism. That’s what he says, at least.

Harrison Barnes is a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward, a former mega-recruit from Ames High School in Iowa, and a player voted preseason All-America before he ever stepped on the floor at North Carolina.

He has a silky jumper, a sculpted frame, and when he’s not delivering polished answers about No. 1 seed North Carolina, he’s talking up the virtues of the business school in Chapel Hill. And maybe all this just leaves people wanting more.

“There’s always gonna be somebody who’s not satisfied,” said Barnes, who is averaging a team-high 17.2 points per game. “I’m sure there’s people who aren’t satisfied about Michael Jordan, feel like he should have got 10 championships.

“In this day and age, I don’t think you can satisfy everybody. But you can definitely do your part.”

On Saturday, Barnes was left answering questions about his performance against No. 11 seed Ohio. Barnes had scored five points in overtime as North Carolina escaped with a 73-65 victory on Friday. But most of the conversation surrounded his ice-cold performance from the field.

Barnes made just three of his 16 shots, finishing with more turnovers (five) than field goals. A worse sin than the shooting: Barnes, with a wingspan approaching 7 feet, appeared to settle for jumpers, attempting a season-high nine three-pointers.

“I judge my good and bad games by wins and losses,” Barnes said. “I just try to do whatever I can do to win the game. That’s what I’m defined by. Individual stats, obviously, if I’m not putting up 30, 10 and 10, there’s probably gonna be some criticism.”

Barnes will have the opportunity to forget about Friday’s performance when No. 1 seed North Carolina meets No. 2 Kansas on Sunday in the Midwest Regional final at the Edward Jones Dome. But this game comes with questions, too.

Barnes and the Tar Heels still don’t know if starting point guard Kendall Marshall will be able to play. After breaking a bone in his wrist last Sunday against Creighton, Marshall was in street clothes as North Carolina took the floor against Ohio. On Saturday, Marshall did some light shooting and dribbling during the Tar Heels’ closed practice.

“I’m going to try and help my team best I can,” Marshall said. “Kansas won’t care if I’m hurt.”

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he wouldn’t know if Marshall would play until Sunday morning.

If Marshall sits, that means more burden on center Tyler Zeller, the Tar Heels’ leading scorer during the tournament at 16.0 points per game. And more pressure on Barnes. Freshman Stilman White started in place of Marshall against Ohio, recording six assists and zero turnovers. But the absence of Marshall appeared to have a ripple effect on Barnes and the rest of the Carolina offense. The Tar Heels piled up a season-high 24 turnovers.

“With Kendall, we had that comfortable space for 50 games — a half season last year and all of this year,” Barnes said. “So with Stilman, it’s the first game.”

Listen to Barnes, and it’s hard to forget he’s still just 19, just two years removed from being one of the hottest recruits in the country. In those days, Barnes was the prince of Ames, winning state titles alongside future Creighton star Doug McDermott and earning scholarship offers from nearly every top program in the country.

One of those schools was Kansas, just a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Ames. Barnes says he grew up an Iowa State fan, often watching the Cyclones take on highly-ranked Kansas squads.

“Anytime you went down to Phog Allen (Fieldhouse),” Barnes said, “or anytime they came (to Iowa State), you always followed them.”

Barnes says his mother, Shirley, loved Kansas coach Bill Self during the recruiting process. But Barnes was swayed by North Carolina’s academic reputation and the relationships he forged with the like-minded Tar Heels.

“There were a lot of young guys,” Barnes said, “that I was going in at the same time with.”

On Saturday, Barnes answered every question with the poise of a young CEO. The kid who used Skype to announce he was going to North Carolina said he’d heard all the common critiques. You can’t escape them. Even when you win.

“It’s not a matter about listening,” Barnes said. “In this type of age, it’s brought to you. People will text me: ‘This is what somebody said about you.’

“It’s always brought to you in this information world, so you kind of just take it and keep going.”

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