By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Energy, crowd noise and excitement returned to the Smith Center on Friday night for the first Late Night in two years.
After a season of playing in virtually empty arenas, fans — some waiting outside for hours — eagerly took advantage of the first chance to see North Carolina’s men’s and women’s basketball teams in person since March 2020.
They saw lots of 3-pointers fall, both in a shooting contest and in the scrimmages.
Emcee Brian “B Daht” McLaughlin pumped up the fans who nearly filled the lower arena and occupied many upper-arena seats. Both teams were introduced one by one, and McLaughlin talked to women’s coach Courtney Banghart and first-year men’s coach Hubert Davis.
After hearing chants of “Hu-bert, Hu-bert,” Davis recalled his first memories of Carolina basketball.
“I was able to see my first Carolina game in person here when I was five years old,” Davis told the crowd. “And I remember telling my dad that this is where I want to be. I remember telling my dad that I desperately wanted to run out and play here. I want to put on a uniform. I don’t know why Jesus has allowed me the ability to experience the things that I’ve experienced here at North Carolina.”
McLaughlin kidded Davis and told him that he should keep the tradition going and save all of his time outs. Davis jokingly responded that he’d take a time out in the first second.
In an extended video, Davis was showered with praise from ESPN’s Rece Davis; Roy Williams, the man he’s succeeding; former teammate Eric Montross; former ESPN analyst Digger Phelps; Don Nelson, who coached Davis with the New York Knicks; former teammate Pete Chilcutt; and former players Coby White, Luke Maye, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson, Brice Johnson, Cole Anthony, James Michael McAdoo, Justin Jackson, Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson and Marcus Paige.
Fans liked what they saw from the two talented rosters on a night when the traditional skits and musical numbers were scrapped in favor of a full evening of basketball. The only dance moves came when both the players and coaches were introduced.
There was a 3-point shooting contest, a short women’s scrimmage and a men’s scrimmage.
Tar Heels fans got their first in-person glimpses at transfers Brady Manek, Justin McKoy and Dawson Garcia on the men’s team. They saw women’s transfers Carlie Littlefield, Eva Hodgson and the No. 2-ranked, four-person freshman class in the country, led by forward Teonni Key from Cary.
In the men’s scrimmage, the Blue team, led by 18 points each from Caleb Love and Armando Bacot, won the first-to-60-points game 60–45.
The Tar Heels’ perimeter prowess was on display as music played and McLaughlin offered commentary. Even Bacot notched a 3-pointer in a sign that UNC’s style will be a little different as there were 10 3-pointers in the scrimmage.
RJ Davis, who paced the White team with 14 points, had three 3-pointers and Love had two. Garcia scored 12 and Manek 11 for the White team.
The Blue team shot 55.6% from the floor and 41.7% from 3-point range compared to 43.9% and 26.3% for the White team.
There was no postgame press availability.
In the eight-minute women’s scrimmage, the Navy Blue team beat the Carolina Blue team 16–13 behind six points from Jaelynn Murray, including four in the last minute. Anya Poole added four for the winners.
Kennedy Todd-Williams led the Carolina Blue team with four and Deja Kelly added three.
There were three teams in the 3-point shooting contest, with one men’s player and one women’s player on each team. Each team got 45 seconds to shoot.
UNC freshman Kayla McPherson wasn’t on the winning team but she put on a show.
The team of Hodgson and Kerwin Walton came out on top in a 30-second shoot-off with the team of McPherson and Davis after both teams made 26 in the first round and McPherson made 19.
The Walton-Hodgson team won the shoot-off 22–17. The third team of Carlie Littlefield and Brady Manek made 22 (11 each).
In a total of 1 minute, 15 seconds, McPherson made 30 3-pointers.
Sophomore Puff Johnson didn’t participate in the scrimmage. He missed two weeks of practice at the beginning of last season because of COVID-19 protocols. He was behind the others when he finally started practicing, then suffered a toe injury in January. He was limited to 14 games and 58 minutes last season.
Next up for the men’s team is a closed scrimmage on Saturday Oct. 23 at Florida before playing Elizabeth City State in a home exhibition game Friday, Nov. 5 at 7:30.
Both teams open the season at home on Nov. 9, the women at 4:30 against N.C. A&T and the men at 7 p.m. against Loyola of Maryland.
Blue 60, White 45
Photo via @UNC_basketball