By R.L. Bynum

While doing everything else to contribute in the first two games, offense didn’t come easily for Leaky Black.

It came at just the right time for No. 14 North Carolina on Tuesday in Asheville. That helped the No. 14 Tar Heels (3-0) pull out a 67-63 victory over Stanford that earned very few style points because of their sloppiness. 

Carolina hadn’t turned the ball over 24 times since its overtime NCAA tournament victory over Ohio on March 23, 2012. It was UNC’s first victory when scoring fewer than 70 points since beating Notre Dame 69-68 on Jan. 13, 2018, a stretch of 18 such games.

“Feel very lucky,” said UNC coach Roy Williams, whose team had 25 turnovers combined in its first two games. “I loved how we just kept trying to make it ugly but at the same time kept competing. Twenty-four turnovers, and so many of them can be classified as either selfish or careless, and you shouldn’t have turnovers in either one of those categories.” 

Carolina faces old nemesis Texas, ranked No. 17, in Wednesday’s 4 p.m. Maui Invitational championship game (ESPN), seeking only the Tar Heels second victory in 10 meetings and fourth in 12 meetings overall.

With 1:02 left, Black made a strong drive to the basket for a key bucket that gave Carolina a 66-63 lead, then made a free throw with 5.5 seconds left to put the game away.

“I feel like that was being at the right place at the right time, and it just happened to be in my hands and I just happened to make it. I feel like I always have confidence, though,” said Black, who scored eight of his 10 points in the second half.

Last year’s rough season seems to have toughened up the returning players, Black included.

“I feel like we were battle-tested,” said Black, who won UNC’s defensive award for the Stanford game. “I feel like we’ve been through everything we can possibly have been through going through last year. And I felt like we’ve got some guys that are willing to learn and to fight when the going gets tough and that’s all you can ask for.”

Freshman Day’Ron Sharpe didn’t have the best scoring game with two points, one rebound and a team-leading four assists, but he made a key deflection at the end as well as a huge blocked shot and won UNC’s defensive award for the game. Here’s a good rundown of Sharpe’s terrific passing against Stanford.

“I thought Leaky was sensational again on the defensive end of the floor,” Williams said. “He made a big drive that gave us a three or four-point lead there at the end. Also got a big tip out on a free throw.”

Another player who improved markedly in the second half was point guard Caleb Love, who scored 12 of his 16 points after halftime. In a key stretch, Love hit a jumper with 3:36 left to give UNC a 62-60 lead, then blocked a shot by Stanford’s Daejon Davis 40 seconds later. 

Caleb Love had a big block for North Carolina in the second half.

He clearly turned up his aggressiveness offensively in the second half.

“Yeah, I’ve got to use that to my advantage because I can get to the basket with the best of them,” Love said. “So, just use that to my advantage. And then when I do drive, kick out or make a shot for myself.”

For Love to be successful at point guard, he’ll have to clean up the mistakes. After turning the ball over a total of four times in the first two games, he had five turnovers against Stanford (2-1). After dishing out four assists in each of the first two games, he had only two on Tuesday.

“Turnovers lead to easy baskets, and it was just like a domino effect for the whole team,” Love said. “But once we got it under control, we took over. And that’s how we’ve got to win.”

The only way that UNC survived all the turnovers was its domination under the boards. The Tar Heels outrebounded Stanford 43-23, rebounding 46.9% of the shots on the offensive end. The numbers showed the disparity in both categories: Stanford had the edge in points off turnovers (22-16) and UNC got the better of second-chance points (18-7).

“You got to try to take your strengths and make that an important factor of the game and your weakness, which today was definitely turning the ball over, and try to make sure that’s not the most important factor,” Williams said “[The turnover numbers] absolutely made me sick. And I’ve always told them we got to rebound the ball so we get more shots. The quality of our shots got to be higher than the quality of theirs. And then the third thing is you got to get shots.” 

Stanford was effective defending UNC’s post players many times by fronting them but that helped the Tar Heels get more rebounds.

“We did gain a great advantage for how we played it, but we just gave up a few too many,” Stanford coach Jerod Haase said of the rebounding disparity. “North Carolina’s probably the best offensive rebounding team in the country historically. They always have been. And they have so much size and physicality.” 

Armando Bacot, with 10 points, was one of five Tar Heels to score in double figures.

All five UNC starters scored in double figures, with RJ Davis collecting 11 points and Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks both scoring 10. The Tar Heels only got 10 points off the bench.

Davis led the Cardinal with 18 points.

Now, Carolina is on to the task of ending the skid against Texas. During the Longhorns’ current four-game win streak against UNC, they were unranked all four times.

UNC is in the championship game of the Maui Invitational four the seventh time in eight appearances.

No. 14 North Carolina 67, Stanford 63

Photos courtesy of the Maui Invitational

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