By R.L. Bynum
Top-ranked North Carolina likely will eventually get burned playing to the level of its opponent but it didn’t happen Thursday against Portland, thanks to Pete Nance and Caleb Love.
Nance matched his career-high with 28 points (with a career-high five 3-pointers) and Love added 16 of his 23 in the first half as the Tar Heels finally held off hot-shooting Portland for an 89–81 victory in the first round of the Phil Knight Invitational at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore.
“It ultimately came down to playing the way we can play,” Nance said. “I don’t know what it was, but we were kind of sluggish coming out of the gate. But I give them a lot of credit, they played really, really well. But I think we made enough plays down the stretch, plays when you’re getting a rebound, when you’re getting stops when you need them, making buckets when you need it.”
Carolina (5–0) faces the winner of Thursday’s second game between Iowa State (4–0), which beat Villanova 81–79, at 5:30 p.m. Friday (ESPN) in the semifinals at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
“It was a tough game against Portland, and I’m really happy with our guys,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said. “I felt like in the second half, when we needed to respond — whether it be on the offensive or defensive end — we did.”
A Leaky Black 3-pointer with 4:19 left gave UNC the lead for good to start the decisive 10–1 run. Tyler Robinson, who scored all 13 of his points in the second half, cut the lead to three on a 3-pointer with 50.8 seconds left. But an RJ Davis jumper with 24 seconds left and his two free throws with 12 seconds remaining put the game away.
Portland (4–3) shot 48% from the floor but made only one of its last eight shots. UNC shot 53% from the floor and 50% from 3-point range (11 of 22). Carolina outrebounded the Pilots 39–23.
Armando Bacot collected 11 points and 13 rebounds for his 51st career double-double and second of the season. Leaky Black had 11 points, nine rebounds and three assists. RJ Davis had 13 points and five assists.
UNC career double-doubles (points and rebounds)
60 Billy Cunningham, 1962–65
51 Armando Bacot, 2019–present
51 Antawn Jamison, 1995–98
UNC career rebounds
1. 1,219 Tyler Hansbrough, 2005–09
2. 1,168 Sam Perkins, 1980–84
3. 1,097 George Lynch, 1989–93
4. 1,062 Billy Cunningham, 1962–65
5. 1,061 Armando Bacot, 2019–present
6. 1,052 Kennedy Meeks, 2013–17
7. 1,035 Brice Johnson, 2012–16
8. 1,027 Antawn Jamison, 1995–98
9. 1,006 Mitch Kupchak, 1972–76
10. 1,003 Brad Daugherty, 1982–86
The UNC starters all played at least 32 minutes, with only D’Marco Dunn and Puff Johnson playing more than five minutes off the bench. Dunn’s 3-pointer accounted for the only bench points.
The big starter minutes could create challenges with Carolina playing games on consecutive days.
It was Nance’s ninth career game of at least 20 points and first since scoring 21 for Northwestern against Illinois on Jan. 21, and second time with more than 25. He also scored 28 points last season for the Wildcats against Maryland on Jan. 12.
“All the credit to my teammates,” Nance said. “They found me and my spot. I work on those shots as much as I can, and luckily they were going in today. All the credit to my teammates for finding me when I was open.”
Nance’s previous best perimeter game was four 3-pointers against Nebraska last season on Feb. 22. His eight 3-point attempts also matched a career-high (he went 2 of 8 against Radford on Nov. 19, 2019.)
“Pete is an unbelievable player; I’m so thankful he’s with us,” Coach Davis said. “He does so many things to allow us to be the team we want to become. That opens it up for us, with his athletic ability to stretch the floor, and shoot the ball from three was huge for us. It gives space for RJ and Caleb to penetrate and make plays.”
With an early steal (one of three) and dunk, Love became the NCAA-record 80th Tar Heel to score at least 1,000 career points, joining Bacot, who reached that plateau against N.C. State on Jan. 29 of last season. Eighty 1,000-point scorers easily top Louisville, which is second with 69. Duke has 67.
UNC jumped out to an 18–8 lead on a Love 3-pointer with 13:10 left in the first half, but the Pilots gradually cut the lead as Carolina played more reserves.
Portland took a 23–22 lead on Moses Woods’ 3-pointer with 7:22 left in the first half, but Carolina went on an 11–3 run that Love capped with a jumper. The Tar Heels led by five late in the first half before D’Marco Dunn fouled Alden Applewhite as he attempted a 3-pointer. He made all three free throws to cut the Pilots’ halftime deficit to 40–38.
A 10–4 Portland run pushed its lead to 53–48 with 16:12 left. The Pilots led by five before UNC went on a 10–3 run.
Wood led Portland with 21 points and four 3-pointers.
NOTES — Carolina is 3–1 all-time against Iowa State, with UNC losing to the Cyclones 85–83 in the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament. All four previous games against Iowa State were at neutral sites. … UNC is 18-0 when Love scores 20 or more points. … There were 15 lead changes (most in a UNC game this season) and six ties. … UNC is 2–0 against Portland, both in this event and in the same arena. The Tar Heels won 102–78 in 2019. … Carolina is 9–1 all-time in Oregon, including 2–1 at the Moda Center, the site of Thursday’s game, and 7–0 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where Friday’s game will be played.
No. 1 UNC 89, Portland 81
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