By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — It may not have come as smoothly as in most years, but Monday’s 70–63 victory over Louisville assured North Carolina of the 62nd 20-win season in program history.
Like many other games this season, the Tar Heels’ inability to keep an opponent from driving to the hoop and collecting inside buckets or kick-outs for 3-pointers made winning difficult. In the second physical battle of the season with the Cardinals, Louisville got the better of the inside play most of the night.
But UNC turned up the defense late, holding Louisville scoreless for the game’s last 2:57. The Tar Heels again showed the ability to make plays late in a tight game.
“Our energy and effort, especially the last three minutes of the game, that was the best we’ve played defensively,” said UNC coach Hubert Davis, suggesting that endurance was a problem in his team’s second game in three days. “I felt like, at times, they were fatigued, especially on the defensive end — our rotations or closeouts. We just weren’t consistently great. Louisville was able to get to the basket and score consistently in the paint.”
Carolina couldn’t shake a Louisville team that came into the game with one win since Jan. 19 until Caleb Love’s driving layup with 37 seconds left pushed the lead to five. Brady Manek flipped a baseline pass to Armando Bacot for a slam with 1:27 left for only his second shot of the second half.
“I feel we can definitely clean up a lot of stuff,” said Love, who played all 40 minutes and made huge late free throws. “I feel like we’re solid in late-game situations. We’re not rattled at all. Down the stretch, we’re not worried about making mistakes.”
Coach Davis was happy that UNC got 20 wins for the first time in three seasons, but says that’s not the goal or the standard in the program. He is proud of how his team got there, though.
He joined Louisville’s David Padgett (22–14 in 2017–18), N.C. State’s Sidney Lowe (20–16 in 2006–07) and Carolina’s Bill Guthridge (34–4 in 1997–98) as ACC coaches to win 20 games in their first seasons.
“This group has gone through a lot. We’ve gone through injuries; we’ve gone through lineup changes,” he said. “We’re not necessarily focusing on the 20th win but just focusing on how much we’ve had to persevere to get to this point.”
It’s the fourth win in the last five games for UNC (20–8, 12–5 ACC), which swept the regular-season series with Louisville (12–15, 6–11) after a 90–83 overtime win earlier, and has won the last three meetings.
“It is very difficult to play high-level games so close together,” Coach Davis said after his team got a big win Saturday at Virginia Tech. “It wasn’t perfect. There were times where we struggled on both ends of the floor. But one of the things that we talk about is stepping up and making plays when plays need to be made. And when we needed a defensive stop, we got a defensive stop. When we needed a basket, we made a basket.”
Manek led the way with 17 points, with Love and RJ Davis adding 16.
“Really proud of the guys,” Manek said. “Really happy to see us contenders to being in the tournament, to keep proving that we deserve to be in the tournament. Really proud of how we’re playing, the toughness we’ve been showing lately, and we’ve just got to keep going. We can’t have bad games like we did against Pitt or earlier in the season. We have to play harder. We’ve got to play like we did tonight in those last 10 minutes, especially.”
For the bulk of the game, the Tar Heels relied too heavily on perimeter shooting and seemed to only have a casual interest in post-entry passes. UNC attempted 25 3-point shots, making only seven. The 28% shooting from outside the arc was the lowest in a victory this season. They have shot worse four times this season, in losses to Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Miami and Kentucky.
Bacot had a tough time when he got those rare chances but still managed 12 points and 15 rebounds for his 21st double-double of the season. Manek (9) and Love (7) both had about the same number of 3-point attempts as Bacot had shots (8).
Most double-doubles by a Tar Heel in a season
23 Brice Johnson, 2015–16
22 Billy Cunningham, 1963–64
21 Antawn Jamison, 1997–98
21 Armando Bacot, 2021–22
20 Mitch Kupchak, 1974–75
20 Billy Cunningham, 1962–63
Most career double-doubles by Tar Heel
60 Billy Cunningham, 1962–65
51 Antawn Jamison, 1995–98
47 Tyler Hansbrough, 2005–09
47 Sam Perkins, 1980–84
44 Mitch Kupchak, 1972–76
43 Rusty Clark, 1966–69
42 Larry Miller, 1965–68
39 Armando Bacot
39 Lennie Rosenbluth, 1954-57
Most double-figure rebounding games by Tar Heel in a season
23 Brice Johnson, 2015–16
22 Armando Bacot, 2021–22
22 Billy Cunningham, 1963–64
21 John Henson, 2011–12
21 John Henson, 2010–11
21 Antawn Jamison, 1997–98
21 Billy Cunningham, 1962–63
RJ Davis made many big second-half plays, and they were needed to compensate for Love committing six of his seven turnovers after halftime. Like in the first game at Louisville, Love atoned for rough stretches with big plays at the end.
A pair of Manek 3-pointers helped UNC take a 10–5 lead, but Louisville used an 11–3 run to take an 18–16 lead with 10:10 left in the first half. The Cardinals made their fifth consecutive field-goal attempt, a Samuel Williamson jumper, to take a 27–23 lead with 7:51 left.
UNC retook the lead when Love followed up a drive to the hoop to score on a twisting move with a 3-pointer, but the game was tied at 36 at halftime.
Louisville cooled off somewhat after a red-hot shooting start but still became the eighth UNC opponent to shoot at least 45% in the first half (45.5). Carolina is 4–4 in such games, with losses to Purdue, Notre Dame, Duke and Pittsburgh.
Leaky Black gave UNC its first second-half lead on a corner 3-pointer and a transition dunk after a Love steal, putting the Heels up 45–43 with 15:49 left. A Love three-point play made it 50–49 Heels with 12:29 left. Until the last 3½ minutes, UNC’s lead never was more than three.
Malik Williams, Dre Davis and Jae’Lyn Withers each scored 10 for Louisville.
The Tar Heels head to Raleigh at 2 p.m. Saturday for the second meeting with N.C. State (ESPN or ESPN2). The Wolfpack (11–16, 4–12), which UNC beat 100–80 in Chapel Hill on Jan. 29, snapped a six-game losing streak Saturday with a 76–61 win at Georgia Tech. State is at home at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Boston College (regional sports networks).
UNC 70, Louisville 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. 4 Purdue|
|21||89–72 loss, 3–2||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 17 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 ACC||Home||Elon|
|14||74–61 win, 8–2 ACC||Home||Furman|
|18||98–69 loss, 8–3 ACC||Las Vegas||Z — No. 6 Kentucky|
|21||70–50 win, 9–3 ACC||Home||Appalachian State|
|January (6–3, 6–3 ACC)|
|2||91–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACC||Road||Boston College|
|5||78–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACC||Road||Notre Dame|
|8||74–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACC||Home||Virginia|
|15||88–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACC||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||85–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACC||Road||Miami|
|22||98–76 loss, 12–6, 4–3 ACC||Road||Wake Forest|
|24||78–68 win, 13–6, 5–3 ACC||Home||Virginia Tech|
|26||58–47 win, 14–6, 6–3 ACC||Home||Boston College|
|29||100–80 win, 15–6, 7–3 ACC||Home||N.C. State|
|February (5–2, 5–2 ACC)|
|1||90–82 OT win, 16–6, 8–3 ACC||Road||Louisville|
|5||87–67 loss, 16–7, 8–4 ACC||Home||No. 7 Duke|
|8||79–77 win, 17–7, 9–4 ACC||Road||Clemson|
|12||94–74 win, 18–7, 10–4 ACC||Home||Florida State|
|16||76–67 loss, 18–8, 10–5 ACC||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||65–57 win, 19–8, 11–5 ACC||Road||Virginia Tech|
|21||70–63 win, 20–8, 12–5 ACC||Home||Louisville|
|26||Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||N.C. State|
|28||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Syracuse|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Road||No. 7 Duke|