By R.L. Bynum

No. 18 Carolina fought well against No. 6 Purdue considering the Tar Heels were playing without their best defender and missed their best inside player because of foul trouble for most of the game.

UNC (3–1) nearly overcame that all, but the Boilermakers were too dangerous from the perimeter and too physical inside as they pulled out a 93–84 victory Saturday in the first round of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Conn.

Against one of the better teams in the country, the spirited effort suggests that the Tar Heels have plenty of potential and a terrific chance of doing damage in March.

“I told the team that as disappointed and upset and frustrated [as I am] that we lost tonight to a very good team, I’m also equally as proud of them of how they did throughout the game, specifically in the second half,” said Coach Hubert Davis, whose team trailed at halftime for the third consecutive game. “Their toughness, their will and their want-to in the second half, I thought that was really good. It wasn’t good enough.”

Dawson Garcia missed a career-high by two points in scoring a game-high 26 points on 10 of 13 shooting. His 3-pointer with 9:19 left gave UNC its first lead of the game at 65–64 and had him pumped up.

“I was excited just because I knew it was going be a fight the whole game and we got punched in the mouth, but we came right back and we weathered the storm,” said Dawson, who shot a career-high 76.9% from the floor and scored a career-high 10 field goals. “So I think it was just excitement. And we were ready to keep going.”

It was a brief lead, though, and the teams then traded runs.

Purdue went on a 10–0 run, ignited by a pair of 3-pointers, to take a 74–65 edge before Carolina came back with a 7–0 run boosted by a Manek 3-pointer. Purdue responded with an 8–2 run.

“I honestly don’t know what happened,” Garcia said of Purdue’s second-half runs. “I just think they hit us back. And, you know, we’ve got to be ready for that and we will be ready for that. Going forward, all this is just a learning experience.”

The Boilermakers (4–0) had control from that point on to force Carolina into a consolation game at 3:30 p.m. Sunday against No. 17 Tennessee (ESPN), which lost to No. 5 Villanova 71–53 in the other first-round game.

“I thought Dawson was really aggressive to start the game,” Davis said. “He was the only one of our bigs that was really effective around the basket, also from the perimeter. That’s the beauty of Dawson’s game is, from an offensive standpoint, he can score close to the basket. He can also shoot the ball from outside.”

For a Carolina team already struggling on defense, being without its best defensive player in Leaky Black made it an even bigger challenge. Black wasn’t in uniform because of an illness that isn’t COVID-19-related.

Black’s length would have helped disrupt the game of Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, who had 22 points and 10 rebounds.

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Anthony Harris, who never got off the bench at College of Charleston, gave the Heels some excellent on-the-ball defense off the bench and contributed five points.

RJ Davis had another big second half, scoring 16 of his 18 points after halftime.

“I’m just trying to bring energy, be that spark for my team,” Davis said. “My teammates did a good job of finding me in transition, finding me on offensive sets and I was able to knock it down and as well as I was able to create my own shots. I just feel like I fed off my teammates both offensively and defensively.”

When Purdue wasn’t consistently scoring inside, it was making both open and contested 3-point attempts.

It was fortunate that Garcia found his shot against Purdue after going 4 of 12 from the floor in the previous game since Armando Bacot fought foul trouble and scored a season-low two points. 

But Garcia then had to sit some late in the game with four fouls. Bacot fouled out with 3:26 left and Garcia followed with 1:24 remaining.

UNC had a tough time matching the Boilermakers’ physical inside play many times and Bacot could have helped in that area.

“It was a physical game,” Garcia said. “Like the coaches told us coming in, we’re gonna have to guard the action before it even happens because we have to be ready for any duck-ins. They got us sometimes but we’ve just got to continue to learn from that.”

RJ Davis and Caleb Love, who also scored 18 points, each dished out four assists but Love also had three turnovers.

Guard Sasha Stefanovic led the way for Purdue with 23 points and seven 3-pointers. Trevion Williams came off the bench to score 20, the first non-starter to score at least 20 since N.C. State’s Braxton Beverly scored 21 in Raleigh on Jan. 8, 2019.

UNC fell behind by 10 points on a Caleb Furst 3-pointer with 3:23 left in the first half but the Tar Heels cut the deficit to 41–35 by halftime.

“This is a great opportunity for us to learn,” Davis said of the loss. “And the thing that I’m really encouraged about is that we can get a lot better and we’ve got a lot to improve on.”

NOTES — UNC’s 12 3-pointers were the most in a loss since scoring 13 on Feb. 28, 2018, in a 91–88 home setback against Miami. … The Tar Heels won the previous eight games in which they scored at least seven 3-pointers. … Carolina did not attempt a free throw in the first half, the first time that happened since the first half against Virginia Tech on Jan. 28, 2015. … UNC allowed a season-high 93 points to Purdue, which shot 55.7%, the highest by an opponent since Georgia Tech shot 59.0% in a 96–83 win in Chapel Hill in 2020. … Carolina scored a season-high 21 second-chance points but got a season-low 14 points from its bench. … Purdue snapped an eight-game losing streak against Carolina.

No. 6 Purdue 93, No. 18 UNC 84

UNC lineup combinations

UNC statistics

DateScore, record/
day, time, TV
LocationOpponent
November
583–55 exhibition winHomeElizabeth City State
983–67 win, 1-0HomeLoyola Maryland
1294–87 win, 2-0HomeBrown
1694–83 win, 3-0RoadCollege of Charleston
2093–84 loss, 3–1Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 6 Purdue
21Sunday, 3:30, ESPNUncasville, Conn.Y — No. 17 Tennessee
23Tuesday, 7, RSNHomeUNC Asheville
December
1Wednesday, 9:15, ESPNHomeX — No. 4 Michigan
5Sunday, 3, ESPNRoadGeorgia Tech
11Saturday, 8, ACCNHomeElon
14Tuesday, 7, ESPN2HomeFurman
18Saturday, 3, CBSLas VegasZ — No. 2 UCLA
21Tuesday, 7, ACCNHomeAppalachian State
29Wednesday, 7, ESPN2HomeVirginia Tech
January
1Saturday, noon, ACCNRoadBoston College
5Wednesday, 9, ESPN2RoadNotre Dame
8Saturday, 1, ESPNHomeVirginia
15Saturday, 8, ACCNHomeGeorgia Tech
18Tuesday, TBA, ESPNRoadMiami
22Saturday, 8, ACCNRoadWake Forest
26Wednesday, RSNHomeBoston College
29Saturday, 2, ACCNHomeN.C. State
31Monday, 7, ESPNRoadLouisville
February
5Saturday, 6, ESPNHomeNo. 7 Duke
8Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2RoadClemson
12Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2HomeFlorida State
16Wednesday, 8, ACCNHomePittsburgh
19Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadVirginia Tech
21Monday, 7, ESPNHomeLouisville
26Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadN.C. State
28Monday, 7, ESPNHomeSyracuse
March
5Saturday, 6, ESPNRoadNo. 7 Duke
8–
12
ACC TournamentBrooklyn
RSN — regional sports networks; ACCN — ACC Network;
X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge; Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tipoff; Z — CBS Sports Classic

Photo via @UNC_Basketball

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