By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — When Pete Nance’s first 3-pointer as a Tar Heel swished through the net 61 seconds into the game, it was probably a relief for him.
It was a significant relief for No. 1 North Carolina that Nance was in a groove in the first half. He was responsible for 13 of the Tar Heels’ first 15 points in a highly choppy first-half performance.
Thanks to Nance scoring 16 of his 18 points — along with three 3-pointers and three blocks — in the first half, UNC led by four at halftime. It didn’t turn into the expected blowout, though, as Carolina wasn’t a lot better in the second half before it held on for a 72–66 victory Tuesday night over winless Gardner-Webb (0–3).
“It felt good. I was glad I was able to get some shots to fall,” Nance said. “I’ve been trying to shoot with confidence, but it’s definitely good to see the work pay off and then have some shots going for me. Being a shooter, sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. Tonight they were.”
As for Carolina’s overall play, Coach Hubert Davis wasn’t impressed and promised that he’ll do whatever he needs to change that. Particularly vexing was that the Bulldogs outscored UNC 34–14 inside despite being shorter.
Like against College of Charleston, Carolina (3–0) played with more purpose and looked more engaged after halftime, and Caleb Love was again the catalyst. UNC scored the first 10 second-half points, and Love had eight as he went from three points at halftime to finishing with 20.
After Carolina led by 14 in the second half, Gardner-Webb pulled within six on a Julien Soumaoro layup with 5:11 left that capped a 10–2 run. The Bulldogs cut it to five on a Ludovic Dufeal dunk with 2:45 left as UNC had to battle without Nance after he fouled out with 3:38 left on a charging call.
RJ Davis had an unlikely double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. His jumper with 51 seconds left was UNC’s first field goal in nearly five minutes and pushed the lead to nine.
Armando Bacot was held to 10 points and seven rebounds.
Coach Davis said there were yellow flags with his team’s effort in terms of toughness, sustained effort, commitment to defense, commitment to the scouting report and his players doing what he asks of them.
“I am surprised,” he said. “But the sustained effort and energy and the joy of being out there on the floor and having a chance to compete every day and see what this team can accomplish? It’s not where it needs to be. It’s not consistent. And, as I said before, it will change and we’ll get better.”
If Carolina is going to play better, Coach Davis said it will be if every player on the team starts to play like RJ Davis.
“RJ is the heart of this team, plain and simple,” said Coach Davis, calling the guard the perfect example of a Carolina basketball player on and off the court. “He outrebounded everybody and it wasn’t about technique; it was because he wanted to get the ball. He wanted to take the charge. So if we can get 18 guys who want to do that on a consistent basis, we might have something.”
Coach Davis said that he’s giving his team Wednesday off because he has to but added that he looks forward to Thursday’s practice. It sounded like it might be quite a rigorous session for the players.
“One of the things that I think helps with hunger and thirst is playing time — lack of playing time,” Davis said. “It’s been a long time ago since I played, but I do remember that that gets your attention. And that’s one of the things, over the next three or four days — it will be addressed and will be re-evaluated. It will be tweaked, pivoted and changed and altered to make sure that we’re playing the way that we can play out there on the floor.”
Nance, who shoots right-handed, jammed his left pinkie fighting for a rebound late in the first half but returned to start the second half with tape around his left pinkie and ring finger.
The crowd roared with cheers when Nance came out of the game for the first time.
“I definitely appreciated the love,” Nance said. “Obviously I haven’t played as well as I’ve wanted to in the past couple of games, so being able to contribute and help this team win, I think, is something that I felt good about.”
Nance, who picked up all five of his fouls after halftime, showed versatility on both ends, from blocked shots and perimeter shooting to smooth, short baseline jumpers.
“The one thing me and Pete talked about was just him being aggressive and looking for his shot,” RJ Davis said. “What he did in the first half, it’s something that we’re gonna need. Super-proud of him, the way he was able to come out not even just on the offensive end, but he got that big block and it was nice to see that big smile on him.”
Carolina needed Nance’s offense to lead 26–22 at halftime as the Bulldogs outscored the Heels on inside points 18–4 in the first half.
Anthony Selden led the Bulldogs with 21 points.
NOTES — Carolina plays the last of four home games to start the season at noon Sunday against James Madison (ACC Network). The Dukes are 4–0 with wins over Valley Forge (123–38), Hampton (106–58), Buffalo (97–62) and, on Tuesday night, Howard (95–60). They went 15–14 last season and are picked to finish fourth in the Sun Belt Conference. … That was the first time a guard led the Tar Heels in rebounding since Caleb Love shared the team lead with Brady Manek (with six) in the home loss to Duke last season. … Carolina is 17-0 when Caleb Love scores 20 or more points. … UNC blocked eight shots for the second consecutive game and has 22 in the first three games. … Some say that Bacot’s hairstyle looks like he has ram’s horns. He said that wasn’t his intention, but he’s OK with that assessment. … Only six Tar Heels played more than nine minutes and Seth Trimble’s three points accounted for the only bench scoring. … Junior Puff Johnson (sore knee) and freshman Jalen Washington (recovering from knee surgery he had in high school) again sat out the game, although both were in uniform. Washington is progressing, and Johnson is expected to be ready to play at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, which starts on Thanksgiving Day. … UNC is 178–18 and has won 48 consecutive games against in-state non-conference opponents, including 6–0 against Gardner-Webb. … The UNC women’s soccer team, which shared the ACC regular-season title, was honored during a first-half timeout. … It was Leaky Black’s 100th career start in his 125th game. … Mark Maye and Drake Maye drew huge cheers when they were shown on the video boards in the second half. … Clare Aubry, who became the first woman to officiate a UNC men’s game last season when the Tar Heels faced UNC Asheville, worked the game along with Pat Driscoll and Clarence Armstrong. … There was a moment of silence before the game remembering the Virginia football players who were shot and killed Monday.
No. 1 UNC 72, Gardner-Webb 66
UNC lineup combinations
|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. 1 Alabama
|ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|30||Wednesday||L, 77–65||No. 21 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||5–3|
|4||Sunday||L, 80–72||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||5–4, |
|10||Saturday||W, 75–59||Georgia Tech||Home||6–4, |
|13||Tuesday||W, 100–67||The Citadel||Home||7–4|
|CBS Sports Classic|
|17||Saturday||W, 89–84, OT||Ohio State||New York||8–4|
|30||Friday||L, 76–74||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||9–5, |
|4||Wednesday||W, 88–79||Wake Forest||Home||10–5, |
|7||Saturday||W, 81–64||Notre Dame||Home||11–5, |
|10||Tuesday||L, 65–58||No. 14 Virginia||Charlottesville||11–6, |
|14||Saturday||W, 80–59||Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||12–6, |
|17||Tuesday||W, 72–64||Boston College||Home||13–6, |
|21||Saturday||W, 80–69||N.C. State||Home||14–6, |
|24||Tuesday||W, 72–68||Syracuse||Syracuse, N.Y.||15–6, |
|1||Wednesday||L, 65–64||Pittsburgh||Home||15–7, |
|4||Saturday||L, 63–57||No. 12 Duke||Durham||15–8, |
|7||Tuesday||L, 92–85||Wake Forest||Winston-Salem||15–9, |
|11||Saturday||W, 91–71||Clemson||Home|| 16–9, |
|13||Monday||L, 80–72||No. 16 Miami||Home||16–10, |
|19||Sunday||L, 77–69||N.C. State||Raleigh||16–11, |
|22||Wednesday||W, 63–59||Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||17–11, |
|25||Saturday||W, 71–63||No. 14 Virginia||Home||18–11, |
|27||Monday||W, 77–66||Florida State||Tallahassee, Fla.||19–11, |
|4||Saturday||L, 62–57||No. 12 Duke||Home||19–12,|
|8||Wednesday||W, 85–61||Boston College||Greensboro||20–12|
|9||Thursday||L, 68–59||No. 14 Virginia||Greensboro||20–13|
Photo via @UNC_Basketball