CHAPEL HILL - Brad Brownell didn't have to say anything. No coach is required to speak effusively about the opposing point guard, even on a day when that point guard had more assists than Brownell's entire team.
Perhaps that's why the Clemson coach, when asked about North Carolina's Kendall Marshall, called him "one of my favorite players in all of college basketball" after the Tar Heels' 74-52 win Saturday.
Marshall had 13 assists. Clemson had 10. Brownell had more to say.
"He's unique," Brownell said. "You don't see many guys like him. His ability to pass, his unselfishness, his IQ for the game are tremendous. Who wouldn't want to play with that guy? Who wouldn't want to coach him?"
Elsewhere in the Smith Center, even within his own locker room, Marshall's performance was considered ... not ordinary, to be sure, but certainly expected at this point in his sophomore year. Taken for granted, even.
Thirteen assists is a career night for some players. Marshall has done it seven times this season.
"With us anymore, Harrison (Barnes) had 25 and we've seen him do that, Kendall had 13 assists," North Carolina forward Tyler Zeller said with a shrug of his shoulders. "It's something that we're happy, and we're excited, but we also know he's a great passer and that's what makes our team special."
North Carolina coach Roy Williams wasn't even asked about Marshall in the press conference afterward. He was prompted to comment on Marshall's 13 assists and three turnovers by sports information director Steve Kirschner.
On the season, Marshall has 262 assists - 97 more than N.C. State's Lorenzo Brown, the closest contender. He has more than twice as many as third place, where Clemson's Tanner Smith and Florida State's Luke Loucks each have 105. He's on pace to break Chris Corchiani's ACC records and Ed Cota's UNC records. Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton never put up assist numbers like this.
Yet there are many midseason ACC honors floating around out there without Marshall on the first team. Instead, most have some combination of teammates Zeller, Barnes and John Henson with Virginia's Mike Scott, Florida State's Michael Snaer, Maryland's Terrell Stoglin and Duke's Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee.
This kind of statistical dominance is rarely this underappreciated. It may have something to do with Marshall's scoring pace - he had only four points Saturday and is averaging a pedestrian 6.6 per game on the season - but he's also the biggest reason his teammates are scoring at the pace they are.
"Thirteen and three, I would take that every day," Williams said. "He's really doing a good job, and he missed his only 3, and it looked like it was going in all the way down in the hole, and came back out. If he starts making some of those, our team will really get a lot better."
Marshall excels at finding his teammates on a run, but North Carolina was officially credited with only four fast-break points Saturday. He had assists on both baskets, and the rest of his baker's dozen came in half-court sets against defenders big (6-foot-5 Tanner Smith) and small (5-foot-9 Andre Young).
"That last 3 they made, where he drove the baseline and somehow sees Barnes backward at the top of the key, you don't coach that," Brownell said. "That's just a guy who's got gifts."
Marshall's usually the one handing out the gifts to his teammates. Saturday, Brownell was the one delivering the gift: the appreciation of a coach who knows he saw something that doesn't come along very often.