By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — After plodding through three wins, top-ranked North Carolina finally looked like the No. 1 team — at least in the first half — Sunday against James Madison, arguably its toughest opponent of the season.
From sharing the ball well on offense to rotating well on defense and Armando Bacot playing well, the Tar Heels (4–0) had an easy time against the previously unbeaten Dukes (4–1), leading by 19 at halftime on its way to an 80–64 early-afternoon victory.
After an unimpressive 72–66 Tuesday victory over Gardner-Webb, Coach Hubert Davis suggested that Thursday’s practice would be pretty intense. It was also the first practice this season with his entire roster available.
“We split them up evenly, and it was very competitive,” Coach Davis said of the practices since the Gardner-Webb game. “And just to get into a habit of the type of effort, attention to detail and things that you have to do, just to put yourself in a position to be successful, and I really felt like all three practices leading up to this game was really good. Very physical, high energy. Lots of intensity. I felt it put us in a position to play really well today, and I’m very, very proud.”
Whatever message was delivered, it turned up results in the first half. After giving up a 14–4 JMU run to start the second half that sliced the lead to nine, the Tar Heels kept the lead at least at double-digits most of the rest of the game.
On Thursday, he had the entire team write down three to five things that they want their identity to be and those lists were collected on Saturday morning.
“So, what do you want? What kind of defensive team do you want to be? What kind of offensive team do you want to look like? I think it’s important to know what you want to look like so that when you go out there, you can actually do the things that are necessary to put yourself in that position,” Davis said.
On Saturday, the players presented a signed document to Davis, who later laminated it.
“It moved me,” Coach Davis said. “One, they remembered. Number two, it was all typed out. It was well thought out. They took time to do this. And then the last thing that blew me away is everybody signed it. So, before the game, I told them I said, ‘you know this isn’t a contract. I said this is a covenant.’ “
Bacot had his 50th career double-double by halftime and looked like his dominant self again, finishing with 19 points and a career-high 22 rebounds. It was his 18th career game with at least 15 of both and his sixth career game with at least 20 rebounds.
RJ Davis led the way with 19 points.
“The first half, the way that we shared the basketball was good to great,” Coach Davis said. “It was really good in the first half, and the second half it wasn’t as good. But that’s exactly the way that we want to play, the way that we played and shared the ball in the first half.”
Caleb Love collected nine points and three assists, while Leaky Black contributed five points, a career-high 12 rebounds and three assists.
RJ Davis scored four points as Carolina jumped out to a 12–3 lead in its best start of the season and JMU only stayed within striking distance early by making 5 of its first 10 3-point attempts.
Freshman guard Seth Trimble scored on a nice twisting drive, hit a corner 3-pointer and played lockdown defense on Takai Molson during a 10–0 run to push UNC’s lead to 15 with 10:06 left in the first half.
By halftime, UNC led 45–26 with its most first-half points and biggest halftime lead this season. Carolina finished the first half with a 12–5 run, including four points each from Bacot and Davis. D’Marco Dunn hit his first 3-pointer of the season in that run and was one of six Tar Heels to score first-half 3s.
JMU made its 14–4 run in the first four minutes of the second half by getting the sort of inside baskets it lacked in the first half.
Molson led four Dukes in double figures with 19 points.
NOTE — Carolina plays its next five games away from Chapel Hill, starting with three games in Portland and a Nov. 30 trip to Indiana. In the Phil Knight Invitational, UNC faces Portland at 1 p.m. Thursday, either Iowa State or No. 16 Villanova at 3 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. Friday, then either No. 18 Alabama, No. 25 UConn, Oregon or Michigan State on Sunday. … Carolina opens ACC play on Dec. 4 at Virginia Tech and doesn’t play at the Smith Center again until a Dec. 10 game against Georgia Tech. … Puff Johnson made his season debut, scoring six points. … UNC is 4–0 against James Madison, but this was the first meeting since beating the Dukes 80–79 in the 1989 Maui Classic when Lefty Driesell coached JMU. The 1982 national championship Carolina team escaped with a 52–50 win in Charlotte over JMU its first NCAA tournament game. … UNC is 192–31 as the No. 1 team. … Joel Berry II, the 2017 NCAA tournament most outstanding player, got huge cheers when he was shown on the video screens during a second-half timeout.
UNC career rebounds
1,219 Tyler Hansbrough, 2005–09
1,168 Sam Perkins, 1980–84
1,097 George Lynch, 1989–93
1,062 Billy Cunningham, 1962–65
1,052 Kennedy Meeks, 2013–17
1,048 Armando Bacot, 2019–present
1,035 Brice Johnson, 2012–16
1,027 Antawn Jamison, 1995–98
1,006 Mitch Kupchak, 1972–76
No. 1 UNC 80, JMU 64
UNC lineup combinations
UNC season statistics
|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