UNC shakes off yet another slow start to beat NCCU

Bacot eases first-half struggles, puts up double-double; Platek’s shooting helps UNC pull away

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL —  So much for a feel-good bounce-back game for North Carolina. It did feel better for the Tar Heels late in the game but getting there was a painful process.

N.C. Central showed early that it wasn’t intimidated by the atmosphere in a near-empty Smith Center. The Eagles exploited the turnover-prone Tar Heels’ inability to defend 3-pointers to take an 11-point lead 12½ minutes into the game.

It was the fourth time in six games that Carolina has fallen behind by double-digit points in the first half, a perplexing pattern that sustains itself regardless of the opponent.

No. 16 UNC (4–2) recovered to score the last nine points of the first half to lead by two at halftime, then gradually added to the lead and took a 73–67 victory Saturday to snap a two-game losing streak.

You have to wonder how the game would have played out without Armando Bacot. He scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half when the Tar Heels couldn’t find a groove, and put up his 13th career double-double and second of the season with 11 rebounds. 

He had trouble finding consistency last season, but that seems to be coming early in his sophomore season.

“I would say not getting so high on my highs and not getting too low on my lows and just trying to do the same thing every game and just knowing what my role is,” Bacot says of what is different this season. His role? “Go out there and be a leader and just go do whatever we need. Do everything coach tells us is to — just finish around the rim, get offensive boards, rebounds and block shots.”

With UNC having trouble getting outside shots to fall, the Eagles made it tougher to get the ball inside with a packed-in defense. 

North Carolina’s Day’Ron Sharpe was a menace for NCCU with 12 points, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal in Saturday’s victory over N.C. Central.

Freshman Day’Ron Sharpe showed that, whatever an opponent does, he can affect the game as much as any Tar Heel in a variety of ways. He finished with 12 points, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal. His message to the guards is pretty simple.

“I think I have some athleticism, so I just tell him to throw the ball up and I’ll go get it,” he said.

Point guard Caleb Love scored 12 points but he still had issues on defense and made mistakes on offense with four assists and six turnovers. RJ Davis, who got some time at point guard, had three assists and three turnovers. 

North Carolina’s Caleb Love, guarding NCCU’s Mike Melvin had four assists and six turnovers Saturday.

It was another sloppy game, with 18 turnovers in a game that had five fewer possessions than any of UNC’s first five games. With 13 assists, that was the fourth time this season that Carolina has had more turnovers than assists.

“I’m concerned about it immensely,” UNC coach Roy Williams said of the turnovers. “You can’t win big games if you turn it over. But I also know that I’ve got two freshmen out there that are handling it and it’s a difficult thing. [Love is] going to get better and he has to get better.”

In the 2013–14 season, the Eagles beat N.C. State in overtime 82–72 in Raleigh. They gained confidence early that they might be able to pull off another upset of an ACC team.

A 10-0 run gave NCCU (1–2) a 19–8 lead and got the attention of the Tar Heels. UNC finished the first half with a 16–5 run over the final 8:30. A Bacot bucket with 1:15 left in the first half tied it at 28 and a Davis drive with three seconds left gave UNC a 30–28 halftime advantage.

Andrew Platek, who scored 11 points, single-handedly gave Carolina its first comfortable lead by getting a steal, hitting a pair of 3-pointers — the Tar Heels’ only two 3s of the game on 15 attempts — and a layup to spark a 10-0 run and push the lead to 57–42 with 9:03 left.   

Williams said that he was going to play Platek more during the first half, but he tried to block a shot instead of taking a charge. Williams pointed out that his career blocked-shot total was the same as Platek’s.

“We need to hit shots so we can get our bigs some room so they can go to work,” Platek said. “If we’re shooting 14% from 3 every game [it was 13.3%], that’s not going to bode well for our bigs because why wouldn’t teams pack the paint and dare us to shoot or whatever? So, we need to really step up and hit some shots to help out our bigs.”

Williams says that Davis, Love and Kerwin Walton all are consistent from the perimeter in practice but it just hasn’t carried over into games. It was the second time in three games that no starter has notched a 3-pointer. Walton had the only 3-pointer against Texas.

One big positive for UNC was improved shooting from the free-throw line. The Tar Heels made 17 consecutive attempts —  the last four of the first half and all 13 second-half attempts — to finish 25 of 31 from the line for a season-high 80.3%.

NCCU was the latest team to blister UNC from the perimeter, making 8 of 19 shots from 3-point range.

UNC gets a week to improve in practice before facing Ohio State at about 4:30 p.m. next Saturday in the second game of the CBS Sports Classic doubleheader in Cleveland.

No 16 UNC 73, N.C. Central 67

Pool photos by Robert Willett

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