Some stars sat, but Live Action was full of fun and surprises

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — Excitement was in the air in the Smith Center on Friday night, with the most combined anticipation for Carolina’s men’s and women’s teams in years.

It was a fun night for all involved at Live Action With Carolina Basketball, although stars on both teams didn’t play in the scrimmages.

The evening included something familiar with a new twist — two Maye 3-pointers — and a big surprise for all of the members of last season’s Final Four team. Before the men’s scrimmage, those players were given fancy rings to commemorate their improbable run.

None of them knew that was coming.

“That was actually a surprise to me,” said RJ Davis, who scored 17 points to lead the White team to a 61–47 victory in a 30-minute running-clock scrimmage over the Blue team. “I had a big smile on my face, and getting the rings was definitely a great feeling. We definitely want to get back and get another. We’ll definitely get back and get another one if it’s up to me. So, definitely motivating me to get back there.”

Coach Hubert Davis said none of the members of his team had ever earned a ring, so he wanted to recognize them and change that.

“It’s a great surprise and it was really nice to see their faces and how surprised they were, In their locker room, they’re talking right now about how much they love it,” Davis said.

Couple the men’s run with the women making the Sweet 16, ambitions are high, and the fans who filled half of the arena greeted both teams loudly and warmly.

Leaky Black proudly held a 2022 Final Four banner as host Brian “B Daht” McLaughlin announced his name. Brady Manek delivered some inspirational words in a video while wearing a “Coach K’s Funeral” hoodie.

“There’s a hunger and thirst amongst the entire team, but it’s coming in different directions,” Coach Davis said. “You have the guys from last year with experiences, the stories that they had last year, so there’s a motivation from there. You’ve got four freshmen who saw what we experienced last year, and they have a desperation of wanting to be a part of it. And then a transfer like Pete Nance, who comes from Northwestern.”

Those two Maye 3-pointers came from junior walk-on Beau Maye, whose older brother is Luke and younger brother is Drake. Beau scored eight points for a stacked White team.

“It was a lot of fun tonight,” Coach Davis said. “One of the things that I enjoy? I love seeing our guys being celebrated.”

Caleb Love participated in the 3-point shooting contest but sat out the scrimmage because of a tight hamstring. Puff Johnson has been practicing with the team but didn’t play because of tightness in his knee. Coach Hubert Davis wanted to give him another day off.

Freshman Jalen Washington was just cleared to play with full contact last week after recovering from a knee injury, so he also didn’t compete in the scrimmage.

The odds were stacked in favor of the White team, which included four of Carolina’s projected starters in RJ Davis, Black, Nance and Armando Bacot. Bacot 11 points, and D’Marco Dunn had 10 for the White team.

“It was definitely a lot of fun out there playing tonight in front of the fans,” RJ Davis said. “It was nice to get that home home court feeling again.”

There were a lot of young stars on the Blue team, including Tyler Nickel, who scored 18 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, Dontrez Styles, who scored nine, and Seth Trimble. Justin McKoy had 11 for the Blue team.

Coach Davis said there wasn’t much thought put into setting up the teams and admitted it was a little lopsided but “was just happy with the way that everybody competed.”

Coach Courtney Banghart has so much confidence in her team that she told the crowd that “we’re wearing white tonight because we’re going to host the first two rounds [of the NCAA tournament] over at Carmichael.”

To do that, the Tar Heels will have to earn a top-four seed, and ESPN projected UNC earlier this week to be a No. 3 seed.

Her team joined the dance team in performing, but she didn’t participate. Banghart said she’d dance if the Tar Heels win their opener against Jackson State.

Junior wing Kennedy Todd-Williams led her team to a 23–20 win with 10 points and two 3-pointers in the eight-minute, running-clock four-on-four women’s scrimmage, playing with Malu Tshitenge (four points), Alexandra Zelaya (four points, including a 3-pointer) and Eva Hodgson. Freshman guard Paulina Paris led the other team with eight points, playing with Anya Poole (six points), Destiny Adams (six points) and Deja Kelly (two points).

Kennedy Todd-Williams sparked her team to a scrimmage victory with 10 points

“She’s just a year better,” Banghart said of Todd-Williams. “I think our guys get better in the offseason, and she’s done that. She’s playing like a seasoned vet. She’s much more vocal on the floor, and I think we expect a good year from her.”

Not playing in the women’s scrimmage were redshirt freshmen Teonni Key and Kayla McPherson and junior wing Alyssa Ustby. Key and McPherson both missed all of last season recovering from torn ACLs. McPherson initially used crutches to get to the bench before the scrimmage but seemed to be walking around fine later.  

Banghart said she just wanted to be cautious with anybody who was a “yellow on the injury report,” explaining why Key and Ustby didn’t play but admitted that McPherson is “in a little bit worse shape” than the others.

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Banghart saw no reason to risk it in a fun event, and she didn’t expect much from the scrimmage.

“I didn’t want to give them much structure because I just wanted them to enjoy being out there,” Banghart said. “Keeping it really light. But what I’m noticing in practice is it’s a group that has been gritty defensively, and we’ve got lots of offensive power firepower.”

In the 3-point shooting contest, there were three teams with one men’s player and one women’s player on each team and 30 seconds to shoot. RJ Davis (12) and Hodgson (9) won with 21. Love (10) and Todd-Williams (9) had 19, with Kelly (9) and Nickel (7) netting 16.

NOTES: Hubert Davis wore a T-shirt with “Lenny 10” on the front and “Ademola 13” on the back as a tribute to former Carolina players Lenny Rosenbluth and Ademola Okulaja, who each died earlier this year. … Kelly came out wearing a tiara during introductions. … Both teams play home closed scrimmages on Oct. 22, the men at the Smith Center against Rutgers and the women at Carmichael Arena against reigning national champion South Carolina. … The men face Johnson C. Smith in a home exhibition game at 7:30 Friday, Oct. 28 (ACC Network Extra/ESPN3). The women will likely play a second closed scrimmage. … The men’s opener is at 9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7, against UNC Wilmington (ACC Network), with the women’s first game at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, against Jackson State (ACC Network Extra/ESPN3).

Photos via @UNC_Basketball/@GoHeels

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