Love jump-starts UNC early as hot-shooting, tough Heels rout Marquette

By R.L. Bynum

FORT WORTH, Texas — Carolina can beat anybody in the country when Caleb Love and Brady Manek are shooting well, and you’ll have no trouble convincing Marquette.

Love (21 of his 23 points and all six of his career-high-tying six 3-pointers in the first half) and Manek (season-high 28 points, five 3-pointers and 11 rebounds) helped the No. 8-seed Tar Heels overwhelm No. 9-seed Marquette 95–63 at Dickies Arena on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Carolina (25–9) has the talent to make a deep run when that perimeter combination is clicking, particularly if Love can replicate his hot start Thursday when he tied the UNC school record for 3-pointers in a half in the first half.

What made the Tar Heels so dangerous, though, is there was plenty of offense to go around, with RJ Davis dishing out 12 assists, the most by a Tar Heel this season, and Armando Bacot (17 points and 10 rebounds) extending his school-record single-season double-double total to 26.

“We get in a lane and we kick it out for open threes,” Love said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can shoot. We penetrate the defense and we kick them out and we knock them down.”

UNC advanced to a second-round game at 12:10 p.m. Saturday (CBS) against No. 1-seed and No. 4-ranked Baylor. The reigning national champion Bears easily got past Norfolk State 85–49 in Thursday’s first game.

The 32-point win is the largest in an 8–9 game in NCAA tournament history (the previous largest was a 75–45 win by No. 8 Michigan over No. 9 Tennessee in 2011). It was UNC’s largest win in an NCAA game since a 103–64 win over Texas Southern in 2017. The 95 points were the most by UNC in an NCAA game since scoring 103 in the first round in 2017 vs. Texas Southern.

Also important was that Carolina kept its cool when Marquette seemed to be trying to goad the Tar Heels into some confrontations.

“We knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Love said. “We don’t back down from anything. So, just my competitive nature, and my team’s competitive nature, just came out and we played it smart. And, you know, we came out with the win. That’s all I cared about.”

At one point after a dustup near the UNC bench in the first half, Carolina coach Hubert Davis had some passionate words for his team.

“My intent is to continue to fight, plain and simple, period, the end,” Davis said of his message to the team at that point. “That someone is going to try to push us around, we’re going to push back. If they are going to elbow, we’ll elbow them back. If they’re going to kick us, we’re going to kick them back.

“I’ve been clear and definitive to the guys about what we need to do out there on the floor,” he said. “And there’s been a number of times where teams have tried to push us around. And the only way that you can change that narrative of people thinking that they can do that, is that you swing back or you be the first one to swing.”

People wonder what Davis says in those pregame speeches that get his team so fired up, but he gave the media a taste of that after the game. He sounds like he could have another career as a boxing trainer.

“I told the guys before the game, I said, ‘There’s three types of people. There’s people that don’t want to fight, there are people that do want to fight, and there are people that are looking for a fight,’ ” Davis said. “And I said, ‘I want a bunch of guys, 17 guys in the locker room that are looking for a fight as we go up there and compete. And that’s what they did. And I’m very, very, very proud of them.”

Bacot put up his 46th career double-double. His 422 rebounds this season broke Brice Johnson’s school record of 416 in 2015–16.

“We decided to go out there and fight and listen to the game plan and do everything that we’re supposed to do and we knew we would get this outcome,” Bacot said.

Carolina had a size advantage, and that helped the Heels outrebound Marquette 52–37.

“Obviously, just based on their statistics for the year, they weren’t a great rebounding team,” Bacot said. “And I think that really gave us an advantage all throughout the game in the first half, us doubling them in rebounds, and just getting all the second-chance opportunities.”

Bacot makes it easier for Manek to get shots in UNC’s offense.

“Us having Armando really opens up the floor for everybody else,” Manek said. “You know, he’s getting double-teamed all the time, leaving guys open that are also threats. So they kind of have to pick and choose. And definitely a key thing we wanted to do today. We knew he had the advantage down low and he took advantage of it.”

UNC’s 13 3-pointers set the school single-game NCAA tournament record, surpassing the 12 against Oakland in 2005.

“You get guys that are threats on the floor and it really spaces out for everybody else,” Manek said. “And I’m fortunate enough to be able to play with guards that like throwing me the ball. So, just finding the open spots and getting me those open looks, it really gets my confidence going.”

Carolina had 29 assists on 34 field goals for the highest percentage of assisted field goals (85.3%) in an NCAA game in program history. The 29 assists were the fourth-most by UNC in an NCAA game and the most since the Tar Heels had a school-record 36 vs. Loyola Marymount in 1988 (assistant coach Jeff Lebo had seven in that game).

Two Love 3-pointers highlighted a 13–2 UNC run, which Manek capped with a dunk, to give the Tar Heels an 18–8 lead eight minutes into the game.

It just got worse for a Marquette team that kept chirping at the Tar Heels, even with a big deficit. Three technical fouls on the Golden Eagles in 77 seconds, one when Coach Shaka Smart complained about the referees missing a walking call against Bacot, just accelerated the rout.

Marquette’s Darryl Morsell, who repeatedly talked trash to Love right to his face, appeared to have his hand on Love’s neck at one point, drawing the third technical foul.

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The latest victim of Leaky Black’s lockdown defense was freshman Justin Lewis, Marquette’s leading scorer, who missed his first nine shots, finally scoring two minutes into the second half and finishing with a season-low six points.

“I just take pride in defense,” said Black, who had a season-high eight assists and seven rebounds. “He’s a gifted player; he’s gonna be a good player. He’s super-strong, he’s physical. He’s a good player. I watch film a little bit and just tried to keep him as uncomfortable as possible throughout the whole game. If you’re not comfortable, you’re not going to want the ball or get great shots. So that’s pretty much what I tried to do every possession.”

Love’s six first-half 3-pointers were the most in a half by a Tar Heel since Coby White notched six against Miami in 2019.

Leading 53–25 at halftime, it was Carolina’s second-largest halftime margin in an NCAA tournament game, bettered only by a 29-point edge in 1993 against Rhode Island.

Olivier-Maxene Prosper paced Marquette (19–13) with 16 points.

UNC 95, Marquette 63

East Regional schedule

First round

Thursday’s games
At Dickies Arena
Fort Worth, Texas

Baylor 85, Norfolk State 49
North Carolina 95, Marquette 63
At Moda Center
Portland, Ore.

Saint Mary’s 82, Indiana 53
UCLA 57, Akron 53
At Gainbridge Fieldhouse
Indianapolis

St. Peter’s 85, Kentucky 79, OT
Murray St. 92, San Francisco 87, OT
Friday’s games
At Fiserv Forum
Milwaukee

Purdue (27–7) vs. Yale (19–11), 2 p.m.
Texas (21–11) vs. Virginia Tech (23–12), 4:30 p.m.

Second round

Saturday’s games
At Dickies Arena
Fort Worth, Texas

Baylor (27–6) vs. North Carolina (25–9), 12:10 p.m., CBS
At Moda Center
Portland, Ore.

UCLA (26–7) vs. Saint Mary’s (26–7), 7:10, TBS
At Gainbridge Fieldhouse
Indianapolis

St. Peter’s (20–11) vs. Murray St. (31–2), 7:45, CBS
Sunday’s games
At Fiserv Forum
Milwaukee

Purdue-Yale winner vs. Texas-Virginia Tech winner, TBA

Regional semifinals

At Wells Fargo Center
Philadelphia
Friday, March 25

Baylor-North Carolina winner vs. UCLA-Saint Mary’s winner, TBA
St. Peter’s/Murray St. winner vs. Purdue-Yale/Texas-Virginia Tech winner, TBA

Regional championship

Sunday, March 27
At Wells Fargo Center
Philadelphia

Semifinal winners, TBA

DateScore, record/
time, day, TV
LocationOpponent
(current rank)
November (4–2)
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. 10 Purdue
2189–72 loss, 3–2Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 5 Tennessee
2372–53 win, 4–2HomeUNC Asheville
December (5–1, 1–0 ACC)
172–51 win, 5–2HomeX — Michigan
579–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACCRoadGeorgia Tech
1180–63 win, 7–2 ACCHomeElon
1474–61 win, 8–2 ACCHomeFurman
1898–69 loss, 8–3 ACCLas VegasZ — No. 7 Kentucky
2170–50 win, 9–3 ACCHomeAppalachian State
January (6–3, 6–3 ACC)
291–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACCRoadBoston College
578–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACCRoadNotre Dame
874–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACCHomeVirginia
1588–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACCHomeGeorgia Tech
1885–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACCRoadMiami
2298–76 loss, 12–6, 4–3 ACCRoadWake Forest
2478–68 win, 13–6, 5–3 ACCHomeVirginia Tech
2658–47 win, 14–6, 6–3 ACCHomeBoston College
29100–80 win, 15–6, 7–3 ACCHomeN.C. State
February (7–2, 7–2 ACC)
190–82 OT win, 16–6, 8–3 ACCRoadLouisville
587–67 loss, 16–7, 8–4 ACCHomeNo. 9 Duke
879–77 win, 17–7, 9–4 ACCRoadClemson
1294–74 win, 18–7, 10–4 ACCHomeFlorida State
1676–67 loss, 18–8, 10–5 ACCHomePittsburgh
1965–57 win, 19–8, 11–5 ACCRoadVirginia Tech
2170–63 win, 20–8, 12–5 ACCHomeLouisville
2684–74 win, 21–8, 13–5 ACCRoadN.C. State
2888–79 OT win, 22–8, 14–5 ACCHomeSyracuse
March (3–1)
594–81 win, 23–8, 15–5 ACCRoadNo. 9 Duke
— ACC Tournament —
1063–43 win, 24–8BrooklynVirginia
1172–59 loss, 24–9BrooklynVirginia Tech
— NCAA tournament —
1795–63 win, 25–9Fort Worth, TexasMarquette
1912:10 Saturday, CBSFort Worth, TexasBaylor
X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge; Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic

Photo via @UNC_Basketball

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