By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Coach Hubert Davis talked a lot about wanting to use his depth this season after leaning on his starters during the Final Four run and playing a tight rotation.
He may still use a deeper rotation this season. But against a physical and aggressive UNCW team that won 27 games a year ago, that didn’t happen.
The Seahawks kept it close through much of a sloppy first half, and Davis used a seven-player rotation as the top-ranked Tar Heels held off the Seahawks for a 69–56 victory in Monday’s opener at the Smith Center.
The key players were familiar, with RJ Davis (17 points), Caleb Love (17) and Armando Bacot (17) all scoring in double figures.
“We knew that UNCW was very physical heading into the game,” Coach Davis said. “We had to match and be able to handle that physicality. Especially in the first half offensively, they just took us out of our rhythm.”
Coach Davis, without Puff Johnson (knee), seemed more intent on letting his regulars find a rhythm, which was hard for them against UNCW. The Tar Heels didn’t start to take control until they turned up the defense in the second half as UNCW went from shooting 36% in the first half to 24.2% after halftime.
Coach Davis said he was pleased with how his defense improved defensively as the game went on.
“I can’t wait to look at the film, but I would say 80% of the shots that they made were based off of our mistakes from the standpoint of fouling jump shooters, going for pump fakes, not being in the right position — doing the opposite of what we had been taught in practice,” Davis said. “I was really proud of them overall defensively. I’m really proud of them and the second half from an offensive standpoint. I felt like we got a really good rhythm.”
D’Marco Dunn (2 points) — who started the exhibition victory over Johnson C. Smith with RJ Davis out — and Seth Trimble (4 points) were the only reserves to play more than 10 minutes. UNC didn’t get a point off its bench until a Trimble transition layup with 9:32 left.
Trimble played in a three-guard lineup with RJ Davis and Love for more than eight minutes in the second half after playing only 3:44 in the first half.
“I think it can brings a lot of good things to the table,” Trimble said of the three-guard lineup. “You have three separate ball handlers who can all space the floor, kick out to each other and shoot the 3 and just get to the lane and create for the bigs and it really just allows us just to play faster and just get the ball and go.”
RJ Davis said the three-guard lineup worked well against the Seahawks’ pressure.
“We have multiple ball handlers and are able to handle that pressure. So I think that was a great adjustment lineup, just to throw it out there and just to also see how it works. I think it went well chemistry-wise,” RJ Davis said. “There wasn’t really any established roles. It was more so we’re all guards, we can all handle the ball. So whoever’s got it and they can either beat the press by themselves or find the open man.”
It took more than three minutes before Love’s 3-pointer gave Carolina its first field goal of the game to trigger a 10–0 run after trailing by six. UNC didn’t open up a lead until an 11–2 run to end the first half gave the Heels a 32–21 halftime edge.
To say that Carolina’s ball movement was poor in the first half would be an understatement, as Armando Bacot notched the Tar Heels’ only assist while they shot 37.5% from the floor.
“I really think for whatever reason that it was a combination for our guys,” said Coach Davis, whose team only had four assists. “They were nervous and they were anxious. I just felt like especially on the offensive end, we were moving at such a nervousness, anxiousness type of pace that at times we couldn’t even catch the basketball. I know we have a veteran group, but it was our first game and I just felt like a lot of it was just a combination of being nervous and being anxious.”
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is passing up good shots for great shots,” he said. “We always talk about having spacing and balance and movement with a combination of player and ball movement. And, for the most part, especially in the first half, that wasn’t there.”
UNC led by 16 points after a pair of Bacot layups with 15:16 left, but the Seahawks trimmed their deficit to eight when Trazarien White scored nine points in a 10–0 UNCW run.
Carolina finally pulled away with a 6–0 run to go up by 16 with 4:30 left.
White led the Seahawks with 19 points.
NOTES — Carolina returns home to face College of Charleston at 7 p.m. Friday (regional sports networks). The Cougars, who went 17–15 last season, opened their season at home Monday with an 85–78 win over Chattanooga. … UNC’s four assists were the fewest since only dishing out four in a 78–61 overtime loss in the 1980 NCAA tournament against Texas A&M. … The three UNCW assists were the fewest by an opponent since Kentucky had three in a 90–77 loss to UNC in Charlotte on Dec. 8, 1975. … Bacot had nine rebounds and has 1,010 in his career. He passed Brad Daugherty (1,003) and Mitch Kupchak (1,006) to move into eighth place in Tar Heel history in rebounds. … Leaky Black came out of the game for a few minutes early in the second half to have an ankle re-taped. … Joel Berry and Luke Maye of the 2016 NCAA champion team got loud cheers during the first second-half TV timeout. … UNC’s 21st consecutive win in a home opener and 17th consecutive season-opening win moved the Tar Heels to 101–12 in home openers. … The Tar Heels are 189–31 as the No. 1 team after losing their previous game as the top-ranked team 71–67 on Nov. 21, 2015, at Northern Iowa. UNC was without injured senior guard Marcus Paige in the last previous season they were preseason No. 1. … Carolina is 6–0 against the Seahawks, including 4–0 at the Smith Center.
No. 1 UNC 69, UNCW 56
UNC lineup combinations
|Time of segment|
|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 via @UNC_Basketball