By R.L. Bynum
While it’s hard to gauge a performance against a bad and rusty Boston College team, North Carolina looked the best it has all season, particularly in the first half, on both ends of the court in a blowout win.
The Tar Heels (10–3, 2–0 ACC) created some of the best ball movement of the season, with players coming off screens for open shots and driving to the basket. UNC needed a few minutes to shake off the rust from a 12-day break but rolled to 91–65 ACC victory Sunday after missing its first seven shots.
“We were sharing the basketball, had a good versatility of attacking the basket and shooting the ball from the outside,” Coach Hubert Davis said after his team’s largest margin of victory this season, topping the 21-point win over Michigan. “And I thought we were really good defensively. In the second half, we let up. The only thing that I would say in the first half is we gave them nine offensive rebounds and that’s something that we’ve talked about we can’t do.”
You didn’t need this game to tell you that it always goes well when Caleb Love scores at least 20 points. UNC moved to 7–0 in his career when that happens after he collected a season-high-tying 22 points and a career-high-tying four 3-pointers. It was his fifth 22-point game this season.
Love said that the ball movement and his big scoring game were related.
“Just open looks, teammates finding me and we were sharing a ball a lot the whole game,” Love said. “Coach has said that if we move the ball, then we’re going to get open shots and that’s what happened. I got open shots because my teammates created them for me.”
That was the tactical change that made a big difference but he said the team’s attitude was just as important.
“Just coming out with energy, effort and toughness and that’s been our motto for the last, I don’t know how long,” Love said. “Coach has been preaching that since we lost that Kentucky game and we just had to find our niche.”
The 36-point margin at one point was Carolina’s largest of the season as Hubert Davis cleared his bench with six minutes left before a crowd that included numerous Tar Heels fans.
“Yeah, I feel like we had to knock the rust off,” said Bacot, who collected 18 points and 11 rebounds and his first career 3-pointer. “Both teams honestly kind of came out flat trying to find our groove. But today, we did a good job of following the game plan and just playing great defense and it helped us.”
It was Bacot’s ninth double-double and 27th of his career. That’s the best total in the first 13 games since Mitch Kupchak had 10 in the first 13 games of the 1974–75 season.
Bacot and fellow big man Brady Manek (17 points, seven rebounds) continued to work the high-low post passing for points around the basket as well as passing to each other on the low post for points.
“I think we just played hard, we played together and we had a lot of fun today,” Manek said. “We were making shots and that first half, we got stops on defense but it all came down to us playing hard.”
RJ Davis had 17 points, two 3-pointers and three assists and Leaky Black dished out a team-high five assists.
It was the third time since 1998 that four Tar Heels scored at least 17 points.
Carolina’s intrasquad scrimmage last Wednesday was probably more competitive than the game against the Eagles (6–6, 1–1), who have lost their last seven meetings with UNC. It was BC’s third consecutive loss in their first game since losing at home to Albany 61–57 on Dec. 13, 20 days earlier.
Dawson Garcia’s absence after getting hurt in an early scramble on the floor led to some different lineups, with Black at the 4 when Bacot and Manek were on the bench and Manek at the 5 when Bacot was out.
Hubert Davis said that Garcia was experiencing headaches at halftime and had no further updates.
“Having a guy like Brady Manek come off the bench is pretty cool,” Hubert Davis said. “His ability out there on the floor not only to make shots but to pass, to rebound, his toughness, his effort on the defensive end. It’s really nice to have him out there on the floor.”
Manek said he’s fine playing the 5 spot.
“I’ve done it before,” Manek said. “We had a kind of a mismatch on the offensive end and we kept attacking and kept scoring.”
Coach Davis is happy to have a player with Black’s versatility so that he can use many different lineups in special situations.
“With him, as athletic as he is, he’s 6-8, we can slide him to the four position and now we go small. And now, we have a guy at the power forward position that can handle the basketball, can get us into the offense,” Davis said of Black, who only had one turnover. “So, to get that from a guy that can play the three or the four is really beneficial to us. We can go big or small and I really liked that.”
Coach Davis was happy with the energy in the game but he wants to see it on a consistent basis starting with this weekend.
“So, I challenged them,” Davis said. “Let’s go 30 days straight where I don’t have to talk about energy, effort and toughness in our practice, in preparation and in our play.”
Bacot’s 3-point play off of an inside bucket 3:36 into the game finally put UNC on the scoreboard. A driving Love shot put the Tar Heels up for good at 5–4, and they scored nine consecutive points. UNC made it 16–5 with a 7–0 run fueled by an Anthony Harris-assisted Manek dunk and a Kerwin Walton 3-pointer.
Two consecutive Manek 3-pointers put Carolina up by 16 with 8:26 left in the first half. The Heels shoved the lead to 31 before taking a 49–20 halftime edge with BC shooting 16.7%, including making only three of 15 layup attempts. It was the lowest field-goal percentage by an opponent in a half since UNLV shot the same percentage in the second half last season in Asheville on Nov. 30, 2020.
UNC’s defensive woes were absent in the first half, but BC’s Makai Ashton-Langford drove past Love for two easy layups in the first two minutes of the second half.
The Eagles outscored UNC 26–25 in the first 9½ minutes of the second half while the regulars were still in the game. There were more lapses in the second half but the Tar Heels played good defense for the most part.
Love said Coach Davis has emphasized playing in front of your man on defense and the team did that much of the afternoon.
“Just knowing that our teammates have got our back if we get beat, they’re gonna be there for us,” Love said. “We’re on an island, but we’re not because we’ve got four of our teammates locked in on defense and in the gaps. We have a lot more confidence guarding our man and knowing that we can stay in front of them.”
Reserve Justin McKoy missed the game because of COVID protocols.
It’s a quick turnaround for the Tar Heels, who visit Notre Dame (7–5, 1–1) at 9 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN2). The Irish, who take a three-game win streak into the game, haven’t played since winning 68–67 at Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Notre Dame’s scheduled home game Saturday against Duke was postponed because of COVID-19 issues in the Blue Devils’ program.
After UNC plays at home against Virginia at 1 p.m. Saturday for their third game in seven days, the Tar Heels get a week off before playing host to Georgia Tech the following Saturday.
UNC 91, BC 65
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. 14 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. 18 Kentucky|
|21||70–50 win, 9–3||Home||Appalachian State|
|January (1–0, 1–0 ACC)|
|2||91–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACC||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