By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — There aren’t many questions about top-ranked North Carolina, but one is how big Coach Hubert Davis’ rotation will be after only six players averaged more than 14 minutes on last season’s Final Four team.
With two players expected to be in the Tar Heels’ rotation out for their 101–40 exhibition victory over Johnson C. Smith on Friday night at the Smith Center, it was an excellent chance to see who might earn more minutes this season with only nine available scholarship players.
“I felt the energy and effort and enthusiasm was on the floor, and with the guys that were on the bench cheering,” Coach Hubert Davis said when asked if he got what he wanted from the game.
The knowns were apparent, from Caleb Love’s perimeter shooting (20 points, four 3-pointers and eight assists) to Armando Bacot’s talent inside (12 points, 20 rebounds, three assists, two blocks). Transfer Pete Nance collected 19 points and six rebounds.
Davis was really impressed when Love dove on the floor for a loose ball.
“Those are the types of plays that endear you to your teammates,” Davis said. “Those are the types of plays that can change the game. And for Caleb to dive on the floor to be able to get another possession just shows his growth as a player.”
RJ Davis (sprained right hand) and Puff Johnson (right knee soreness) were held out of the game but Coach Davis said that both will be ready for the Nov. 7 opener against UNC Wilmington.
Coach Davis said depth has been on his mind since he saw his players look fatigued late in the ACC Tournament loss to Virginia Tech and the loss to Kansas in the NCAA final.
“This year one of the things I think we have is we have depth,” Davis said. “We have a number of guys that can step on the floor and make big plays on both ends. That’s an added benefit.”
Another difference this year, Davis said, is that his team’s versatility on defense will allow his players to switch on all screens. He didn’t think that was the case last season.
“I feel very comfortable with our bigs guarding guards out on the perimeter and I feel very comfortable with our guards guarding bigs down in the low in the post,” Davis said. “That’s something that we will do this year 100%. And that’s something that I’ve always wanted to have. When you have the ability to switch, it takes teams out of their plays and makes them an isolation one-on-one team and a team that doesn’t have a dude that can break things down and be able to make plays.”
The last of the expected starters left the game with 11:24 remaining. A few minutes later, Dontrez Styles (seven points, 10 rebounds), who made a huge 3-pointer early in overtime against Baylor in the second round of the NCAA tournament, swished a shot from outside the arc in the middle of a 23–0 UNC run.
With the Division II Golden Bulls, who were 5–20 last season, packed into a 2–3 zone, the Heels let the perimeter shots fly, with more than half of their first-half shots coming outside of the 3-point arc.
UNC took five fewer 3-point attempts in the second half and got the ball inside more. The whole game was mostly freelance offense.
“I thought in the second half, we did a good job of really penetrating the paint; even later in the first half, we were getting into paint and still getting some threes up; but we consider those good shots,” said Nance, who started at the four spot and played some at the five when Bacot was on the bench. “I thought we had a good balance of inside and outside.”
D’Marco Dunn, who averaged just over four minutes a game last season and played double-digit minutes twice, started in place of Davis.
Dunn said that he wasn’t surprised to start with Davis out, considering Dunn and freshman Seth Trimble have been the first players off the bench in practice.
“We are a really deep team. We’re double-digit deep,” Dunn said. “I think everybody is gonna get a chance to play during the season and I think I’ll be part of it.”
Love said that Dunn earned the start.
“He deserves everything that’s coming to him,” Love said. “He put the work in. He waited his turn. He took the steps to get where he’s gotten right now and it’s only the beginning for him.”
Fans quickly discovered that Trimble (11 points, five assists) could jump (his brother, after all, is J.P. Tokoto) and is quick, and Tyler Nickel (9 points and two 3-pointers) is a dangerous shooter.
Love says that Trimble’s athletic ability and how fast he is make him so dynamic.
“He’s a great defender and he can do so many things on the court,” Love said. “He’s going to get a lot of minutes.”
NOTES — Senior forward Justin McKoy missed the game with an illness unrelated to COVID-19 … Although freshman forward Jalen Washington warmed up with the team before the game, he didn’t play as he continues to rehab an injured knee. … At halftime, UNC honored the 1997 and 1998 UNC Final Four teams, which went 28–7 and 34–4. Ademola Okulaja, who died in May, was represented by his brother. … Johnson C. Smith was held to 11 points and 12.1% shooting in the second half. … Vince Carter and Kennedy Meeks were among the former players at the game. … It was an emotional exhibition game for Coach Davis because both of his parents are Johnson C. Smith graduates. … Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams and his wife Wanda were back in their familiar seats near the tunnel the players run through. … UNC moved to 24–0 in exhibitions against Division II and lower schools since the games started in 2003 and 10–0 against CIAA schools. … The Tar Heels’ warmups were a modified version of what they wore at the Final Four: white with black trim and hoods, with an interlocking NC on the front and Carolina on the back. … Six minutes into the game, fans with seats in the upper arena were allowed to take vacant lower-arena seats.
No. 1 UNC 101, J.C. Smith 40
UNC lineup combinations
|Score||Time||1||2||3||4||5||Differential||Time on court|
|28||Friday||W, 101–40||Johnson C. Smith||Home||Exhibition|
|11||Friday||W, 102–86||College of Charleston||Home||2–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 80–64||James Madison||Home||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|24||Thursday||W, 89–81||First round: Portland||Portland||5–0|
|27||Sunday||L, 103–101, |
No. 18 Alabama
|ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|30||Wednesday||9:15||No. 11 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||ESPN|
|4||Sunday||3 p.m.||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||ACCN|
|13||Tuesday||7 p.m.||The Citadel||Home||ESPN2|
|CBS Sports Classic|
|17||Saturday||3 p.m.||Ohio State||New York||CBS|
|4||Wednesday||9 p.m.||Wake Forest||Home||ACCN|
|7||Saturday||11:30 a.m.||Notre Dame||Home||ESPN2|
|10||Tuesday||9 p.m.||No. 5 Virginia||Charlottesville||ESPN or ESPN2|
|14||Saturday||2 p.m.||Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||ESPN|
|17||Tuesday||7 p.m.||Boston College||Home||RSN|
|21||Saturday||5 p.m.||N.C. State||Home||ACCN|
|24||Tuesday||9 p.m.||Syracuse||Syracuse, N.Y.||ESPN|
|4||Saturday||6:30||No. 8 Duke||Durham||ESPN|
|7||Tuesday||7 p.m.||Wake Forest||Winston-Salem||ESPN or ESPN2|
|11||Saturday||2 p.m.||Clemson||Home||ESPN or ESPN2|
|19||Sunday||1 p.m.||N.C. State||Raleigh||ESPN|
|22||Wednesday||9 p.m.||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||ESPN or ESPN2|
|25||Saturday||6 or 8||No. 5 Virginia||Home||ESPN|
|27||Monday||7 p.m.||Florida State||Tallahassee, Fla.||ESPN|
|4||Saturday||6 or 6:30||No. 8 Duke||Home||ESPN|
Photo of Seth Trimble via @UNC_Basketball