By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — With Appalachian State hanging around late in the first half and Carolina struggling to put together much offense, Caleb Love demonstrated the kind of passing and athleticism the Tar Heels will need to avoid more head-shakingly one-sided losses.
UNC would love to save in a bottle a first-half sequence from him and a second-half sequence from Kerwin Walton and cork it for frequent release the rest of the season.
After making a drive to the lane, Love spun and tossed a nice, leaping pass to Brady Manek for a reverse layup. Love followed with a 3-pointer and then delivered a bullet pass to Armando Bacot that led to a dunk. Later in the half, he fired another high-velocity pass to Manek after a rebound for a layup.
With the offense engaged and the Tar Heels finally shooting well for most of the second half, they eventually pulled away for a 70–50 win over Appalachian State on Tuesday night at the Smith Center.
It still wasn’t pretty for long stretches, with UNC going scoreless for more than five minutes late in the second half.
Bacot led the way again with 16 points and 10 rebounds and RJ Davis added 15 as UNC shot 55.2% in the second half. Manek put up his ninth career double-double and first as a Tar Heel with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“RJ and Caleb both have had fantastic seasons,” Coach Hubert Davis said. “They’re unbelievable guards that have been consistent for us in terms of scoring, distributing and playing defense and I can’t be more happy with them tonight.”
The big boost in the second half? That came when Walton made two consecutive 3-point attempts for his first points from outside the arc since two 3-pointers on Nov. 23 against UNC Asheville eight games earlier.
“I was very happy for Kerwin,” RJ Davis said. “Not just about making shots but he was tremendous on the defensive end, making nice passes. Kerwin was a big boost off the bench for us.”
The ball movement was much better and it created more opportunities. In assisting on 10 of 13 first-half field goals, UNC already had more assists at halftime than in the entire Kentucky loss (9). For the game, 17 of Carolina’s 29 field goals were assisted.
Love was the best example of that, rebounding from an eight-point, no-assist game with 11 points and five assists against the Mountaineers (6–7). It was one of those nights that Love would have had a few other assists the way Dean Smith used to keep them unofficially (counting a good pass when the recipient misses). Four other Tar Heels also had multiple assists.
Turnovers are still a big issue for Love, though. He went to the bench four minutes into the second half with three fouls, returned four minutes later and quickly headed back to the bench after another turnover and his fourth foul.
Love committed a season-high six turnovers in 25 minutes after turning it over four times against Kentucky, a loss Hubert Davis says he didn’t talk a lot about.
“One of the things that we constantly talked about is for them to be the best that they can be. It is non-negotiable,” Davis said. “There’s going to be times where we turn the ball over and don’t execute. But that’s something that can’t happen and it’s happened twice where our energy and effort and toughness was not present. I never want to see it again.”
Defensively, Carolina played ball screens differently and it seemed to work better. Time will tell if that’s just because of the competition or if it can be sustained against ACC competition. Like last season, UNC was switching and having the big men mostly hedge.
“They did a lot of brush screens this game, so all we did was we switched,” RJ Davis said. “I think that was a big factor for us. All of our perimeter guys and our bigs can guard any position. For us to be able to switch guard on a big, a big on a guard, it didn’t really matter.”
Hubert Davis said he had three players switch at times and four players at other times. He said a lot of that had to do with the way ASU runs its offense.
“I thought we did a really good job and so this is the first time that we ever did it in the game and I really liked it,” Davis said. “I liked that we can switch and I like the versatility on defense.”
Appalachian State jumped out to a 7–3 lead in a way eerily similar to Saturday’s loss to Kentucky: with two layups and an open 3-pointer the first 1:43. Carolina scored the next 10 points with some good high-post to low-post passing from Manek to Bacot for five points.
“We had a size advantage and we want to get the ball inside,” said Manek, who passed the 1,600 career points plateau and now has 1,607 in 134 college games. “And when Mondo’s willing to work for it, I’ll long-throw it. He’s been doing just that. He’s played great. Guys looking to throw him the ball. Guys feeding off of Mondo when he gets the ball and it’s just been great.”
The Mountaineers went 6½ minutes without a field goal before Adrian Delph’s 3-pointer cut UNC’s lead to 16–12 with 11:37 left in the first half. UNC couldn’t quite shake Appalachian, only leading 35–27 at halftime.
Carolina finally started to build a lead when RJ Davis capped an 11–4 run with a layup to put the Heels up 50–35 with 12:22 left.
After the Tar Heels take a seven-day holiday break, they return home Wednesday, Dec. 29 for a 7 p.m. game against Virginia Tech. The Hokies (8-4, 0-1 ACC) play at No. 2 Duke on Wednesday at 9 p.m. (ESPN2) after losing Dec. 4 in their league opener to Wake Forest 80–61 on Dec. 4.
UNC 70, Appalachian State 50
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. 3 Purdue|
|21||89–72 loss, 3–2||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 19 Tennessee|
|23||72–53 win, 4–2||Home||UNC Asheville|
|December (5–1, 1-0 ACC)|
|1||72–51 win, 5–2||Home||X — Michigan|
|5||79–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACC||Road||Georgia Tech|
|11||80–63 win, 7–2||Home||Elon|
|14||74–61 win, 8–2||Home||Furman|
|18||98–69 loss, 8–3||Las Vegas||Z — No. 20 Kentucky|
|21||70–50 win, 9–3||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. 2 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. 2 Duke|
Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic
Photo via @UNC_Basketball