By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — What would life be like for North Carolina without Armando Bacot this season?
The Tar Heels got a 13-minute sampling in the first half of their 80–63 win Saturday night at the Smith Center against Elon for their first four-game win streak in two seasons. It was ugly to watch when Caleb Love wasn’t scoring or unleashing a spectacular windmill dunk.
It’s the first time since the first four games in 2012–13 that Carolina has allowed 63 or fewer points in four consecutive games.
Although UNC (7–2) still led by eight at halftime, post-entry passes were rare and a now 2–8 Elon team outscored the Heels inside 18–12, resulting in Carolina’s worst shooting half of the season at 29.4%.
Love, with 11 of his 22 points in the first half, and Carolina’s potent transition game kept the Tar Heels afloat while Bacot was on the bench with two fouls. Dawson Garcia played well, too, with nine of his 22 points in the first half.
“I don’t feel like I have a ceiling,” Love said after also pulling down five rebounds and getting three steals. “I feel like I’m going to keep going up. That’s just my confidence level right now. I talk to Coach [Hubert] Davis all the time. He tells me I’m doing great. But he tells me I could turn it up a little.”
Love continues to get better and Davis says it all goes back to an offseason conversation.
“He said, ‘I need to come back to college,’ ” Davis said of the talk. “He says, ‘I’ve got to mature. I’ve got to be a better person on the court and off the court if I want to be good here at Carolina, and I want to have a chance to be good in the NBA.’ And for an 18-year-old kid to be able to say that clearly, definitively, face-to-face, I thought that was awesome. It’s very difficult for adults to say that.”
Bacot came back strong in the first three minutes of the second half.
He was active in the post, had an assist, then got a steal and dunk that gave Carolina a 46–34 lead. Minutes later, he swatted away a shot by Elon’s 7–0 center Andrew Junkin.
After going scoreless in a little less than seven first-half minutes, Bacot piled up the statistics in the second half with all nine of his points, and finished with seven rebounds, four steals and two blocks.
“I would just say that we just didn’t connect it together and we knew that we didn’t play the way we’re capable of in the first half,” Garcia said. “So, we came together. We had that one run where it really showed who we really are.”
Carolina’s half-court still sputtered early a bit in the second half but it got enough going to finally pull away from the Phoenix with an 8–0 run, better passing and tough defense. The Tar Heels had a season-high 12 steals (five more than in any other game) from five players and scored a season-high 23 points off turnovers and a season-high 19 fast-break points.
“Defensively, I felt like we were pretty good,” Hubert Davis said. “At the top of the key, we made it very difficult for their man to catch the ball in the second half. They started getting into those passing lanes and they were able to get some steals.”
Davis was very frustrated with the 16 turnovers by UNC, which shot 52% in the second half.
“They’re all careless,” he said of the turnovers. “For us to build on what we’ve been doing this season, especially the last couple of weeks, I was very frustrated at the carelessness.”
Carolina’s 27 free throws on 35 attempts were both season-highs. The Tar Heels’ rebounding margin of 48 to 24 was a season-high.
Carolina didn’t get its first field goal until Love elevated for a spectacular transition windmill dunk 4:23 into the game, but only trailed 10–8 thanks to four free throws. An inside bucket in traffic and a transition 3-pointer from RJ Davis gave UNC a 24–21 lead with 8:31 left in the first half.
“I felt really good and I wanted to show some athleticism,” Love said of the dunk.
Garcia’s 3-pointer capped a stretch of seven consecutive Tar Heels points to go up 31–24 with 5:57 left in the first half. UNC used a 14–5 run to lead 37–29 at halftime.
The Tar Heels get two days off before Furman comes to the Smith Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday (ACC Network.) The Paladins are 7–3 after beating Appalachian State at home 73–65 on Friday night.
Their biggest win of the season came 80–72 in overtime at Louisville on Nov. 12. Furman’s losses have come at Belmont (95–89 in overtime), 77–66 vs. Navy and 80–65 at Winthrop. UNC and Furman both beat College of Charleston. UNC won on the road 94–83 on Nov. 16 and the Paladins won at home on Dec. 3 91–88 in overtime.
UNC 80, Elon 63
UNC season statistics
day, time, TV
|5||83–55 exhibition win||Home||Elizabeth City State|
|9||83–67 win, 1–0||Home||Loyola Maryland|
|12||94–87 win, 2–0||Home||Brown|
|16||94–83 win, 3–0||Road||College of Charleston|
|20||93–84 loss, 3–1||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 2 Purdue|
|21||89–72 loss, 3–2||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 13 Tennessee|
|23||72–53 win, 4–2||Home||UNC Asheville|
|December (3–0, 1-0 ACC)|
|1||72–51 win, 5–2||Home||X — No. 24 Michigan|
|5||79–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACC||Road||Georgia Tech|
|11||80–63 win, 7–2||Home||Elon|
|14||Tuesday, 7, ESPN2||Home||Furman|
|18||Saturday, 3, CBS||Las Vegas||Z — No. 5 UCLA|
|21||Tuesday, 7, ACCN||Home||Appalachian State|
|29||Wednesday, 7, ESPN2||Home||Virginia Tech|
|1||Saturday, noon, ACCN||Road||Boston College|
|5||Wednesday, 9, ESPN2||Road||Notre Dame|
|8||Saturday, 1, ESPN||Home||Virginia|
|15||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||Tuesday, TBA, ESPN||Road||Miami|
|22||Saturday, 8, ACCN||Road||Wake Forest|
|26||Wednesday, RSN||Home||Boston College|
|29||Saturday, 2, ACCN||Home||N.C. State|
|31||Monday, 7, ESPN||Road||Louisville|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Home||No. 1 Duke|
|8||Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||Clemson|
|12||Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2||Home||Florida State|
|16||Wednesday, 8, ACCN||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||Virginia Tech|
|21||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Louisville|
|26||Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||N.C. State|
|28||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Syracuse|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Road||No. 1 Duke|
Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic
Photo via @GoHeels