By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — With the frustrations from Carolina’s forgettable Sunday loss to Tennessee still triggering head shakes from coaches and fans, the Tar Heels needed something to dissipate the stench from that effort.

UNC Asheville didn’t give UNC much of a test but the Tar Heels still struggled to pass it before they pulled away for a 72–53 victory Tuesday night at the Smith Center.

“For the most part, our guys were stunned,” Hubert Davis said. “They were stunned after last weekend.”

In attempting to move on from that loss, plenty of issues remained that the Bulldogs (2–3) didn’t have the talent to fully exploit.

“We got stomped by two teams this weekend,” said Brady Manek, who had eight points and two of UNC’s season-low seven 3-pointers. “We were not a team. We have to play like a team. We’ve got to get out of the hole that we dug for ourselves.”

On the offensive end, there were stretches of empty possessions and several missed layup attempts. But Armando Bacot was back to his dominant self inside (22 points and seven rebounds) and, with the Tar Heels (4–2) shooting well (48.1% from floor), there were some positives to take into an eight-day holiday break before facing Michigan, including better overall defense.

“After the weekend obviously didn’t go the way we wanted, we all were pretty upset about that,” Bacot said. “Coming into this game, we knew we wanted to get out and just compete on defense. We fixed a few things in practice and kind of emphasized some of the things we weren’t doing.”

RJ Davis was the only other Tar Heel to score in double figures with 12.

Clare Aubry made history when she threw the ball up for the opening tip and became the first woman to officiate a UNC game in program history. Aubry has experience not only in college but in the G League and the NBA Summer League.

“We’ve got to get out to an early lead and hold it,” Manek said. “We can’t let teams like that stick around because when we play teams that are gonna do that to us, we’ve got to be able to respond.”

After 14 good minutes and a 35–15 lead, Carolina scored six points over the next 11:26. A layup from Jamon Battle, who led the Bulldogs with 19 points, sliced UNCA’s deficit to seven with 12:38 left. UNC responded with an 11–2 run, shoved the lead to 18 and pulled away at the end.

Bacot scored nine consecutive UNC points to make push the lead to 54-40 with 10:01 remaining. He said he tried to take over.

“Yeah, definitely. I mean, we all just came into a huddle. It was like, it’s just time to lock in more on offense,” said Bacot, who scored at least 20 points for the third time this season and seventh time in his career.

“This whole game, I knew I had to come out and just be even more aggressive and give that post option,” Bacot said. “Because I felt, not just in a post, I can basically score on anybody. So, this whole game I just wanted to just assert my dominance. I’ve been shooting a pretty good percentage. I guess when I get the ball, good things happen for the most part.”

Tar Heels turnovers, 18 for the game and 10 in the second half, kept the Bulldogs in the game.

“One of the things I always say with turnovers, it’s either one of two things. It’s selfishness or carelessness,” Coach Hubert Davis said. “Our turnovers are 100% never selfish but just careless.”

Although UNC held UNCA to 26.5% shooting for the game (the lowest by a UNC opponent since Evansville shot 25.8% on Dec. 6, 2012) as the Bulldogs made only seven of 37 3-point attempts (18.9%), there was still bad defense at times with not enough turnovers forced. This was the fourth consecutive game that a UNC opponent has had 10 or fewer turnovers as UNCA only had seven.

“I think we got seven stops in a row and I was really excited and really happy with that,” Coach Davis said. “I thought we were dialed in on defense. From how we played defense over the weekend, what was our response going to be? From a defensive standpoint, I thought it was great.”

It was the first time Carolina has held an opponent under 30% shooting in both halves since Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament on March 10, 2020.

How can UNC get better on defense?

“Just being more aggressive on the defensive end,” Bacot said. “We were just playing a little bit off, not being an aggressive defensive team, just trying to be safe.”

Leaky Black played solidly on the defensive end in addition to collecting nine points and a career-high 11 rebounds.

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As expected against UNCA, the Tar Heels dominated the boards 51–29, rebounding 48.1% of their misses with a season-high rebounding total.

It took 2:11 for a Dawson Garcia 3-pointer to mark the first points of the game. A 12–0 UNC run, sparked by two 3-pointers from Manek and one from Davis, made it 17–5 after seven minutes. Carolina led by as many as 20 points in the first half before UNCA trimmed its deficit to 37–24 by halftime.

The Tar Heels welcome No. 20 Michigan to the Smith Center for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Dec. 1 at 9:15 p.m. (ESPN). The Wolverines (3–2) face Tarleton State at home Wednesday night after losses to Arizona (80–62) and Seton Hall (67–65).

UNC 72, UNC Asheville 53

UNC lineup combinations

UNC season statistics

DateScore, record/day, time, TVLocationOpponent
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. 3 Purdue
2189–72 loss, 3-2Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 15 Tennessee
2372–53 win, 4-2HomeUNC Asheville
December
1Wednesday, 9:15, ESPNHomeX — No. 20 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. 5 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. 5 Duke
8–
12
ACC TournamentBrooklyn
RSN — regional sports networks; ACCN — ACC Network;
X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge; Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic

Photo via @UNC_Basketball

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