Coach Davis says short bench isn’t sustainable, but starters played big minutes again in Iowa State loss

By R.L. Bynum

It wasn’t hard for Hubert Davis to find the proper perspective after a hot-shooting Iowa State team gave No. 1 North Carolina its first loss of the season.

Davis, well aware of the struggles last season’s team endured early in the season and where it ended up, wasn’t too concerned after the Cyclones’ 70–65 semifinals win Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Ore.

Losing a game and likely the No. 1 ranking in November is of no concern to him compared to getting better. He won’t even bring it up to the team, pointing out that he doesn’t remember the top-ranked team last November, but he knows who won the national championship.

“The things that I talk about to the team are stuff that is real and helpful to the team,” Davis said. “Let’s just focus on what is real, and our improvement. Let’s just continue to get better. And, at the end of the day, let’s see how good that this team can become.”

Having better depth would be a good start, but Davis clearly isn’t ready to expand his rotation beyond eight players yet.

The starters played a lot of minutes, and that may have had something to do with UNC (5–1) blowing a 57–49 lead with 5:43 left, missing four of its last six shots and turning the ball over four times after that.

Iowa State (5–0) scored 21 points off 14 Carolina turnovers compared to UNC only scoring six points off of 10 Cyclones turnovers. The Cyclones shot 48.1% in the second half and made 45% of their 3-point attempts for the game.

“We’re going to need others to step up and play quality minutes out there on the floor,” Coach Davis said. “It’s just not sustainable to play your starting five 30-plus minutes a night. So, you need guys to step up. But you also need people not only to get playing time and step up, but you also need them to play well, too. And so that’s something that we’ll continue to look at it and continue to grow. And again, it’s only November. We played six games.”

Combined in the 89–81 win over Portland and the loss to Iowa State, Caleb Love (12 points, three assists and a team-high 138.6 defensive rating) played 74 minutes, 17 seconds, Armando Bacot (13 points, nine rebounds against Iowa State) played 70:45, Pete Nance (nine points, 8 rebounds, three assists) 66:49, Leaky Black (six points, five rebounds, three assists) 65:08 and RJ Davis (15 points, three rebounds) 64:14. The latter minutes total would have probably been higher if Davis didn’t have three fouls in both games.

Allocation of minutes in Portland

Caleb Love — 36 minutes, 19 seconds against Portland, 37:58 against Iowa State for 74:17 total
Armando Bacot — 37:10, 33:35 for 70:45
Pete Nance — 31:42, 35:07 for 66:49
Leaky Black — 31:00, 34:08 for 65:08
RJ Davis — 31:56, 32:18 for 64:14
Seth Trimble — 4:53 and 12:33 for 17:27
Puff Johnson — 8:49 and 12:10 for 20:59
D’Marco Dunn — 10:43 and 7:10 for 17:53
Tyler Nickel — 1:29 and 0 for 1:29
Justin McKoy — 1:00 and 0 for 1:00

The only reserves who have played in both of the Portland games have been junior Puff Johnson (20 minutes, 59 seconds in those two games), sophomore D’Marco Dunn (17:53) and freshman guard Seth Trimble (17:27), who combined for 10 points (six from Johnson, and two each from Trimble and Dunn) against the Cyclones (5–0).

Johnson had some good minutes, highlighted by a nice steal and a pretty assist, finishing with six points and two assists.

The candidates for more playing time clearly aren’t earning more minutes in Davis’ eyes by their play in practice. He might play more players if Carolina built up a big lead, but that hasn’t happened much so far this season.

After combining to log 13 scoreless minutes in the first three games, sophomore guard Dontrez Styles hasn’t played in the last three games.

Freshman forward Tyler Nickel combined for 23 minutes in the first three games but has logged only three scoreless minutes in the last three and didn’t get into the Iowa State game. Nickel’s play on the defensive end is likely the reason his playing time has fallen.

The only other player on the roster who has played this season is Justin McKoy, who has played just over seven minutes over two games this season and got in for a minute late in the first half against Portland.


A big problem against Iowa State was perimeter shooting, with Iowa State’s Caleb Grill making 7 of 11 3-point attempts and scoring a career-high 31 points. He was 4 for 24 from the perimeter before Friday’s game, but had open shots all night coming off screens and hit a late 3 from beyond NBA range.

UNC was 3 of 18 from outside the arc (a season-low 16.7%), with both RJ Davis and Love going 1 of 7 and Nance going 1 of 3. Fatigue could have been a factor considering that Carolina was 11 of 22 from 3-point range against Portland.

The Tar Heels led 60–53 after a Black layup with 3:55 remaining but didn’t score another field goal until Nance’s tip-in at the buzzer.

“In that situation, up by seven with three minutes to go, you just have to be sound on both ends of the floor,” Coach Davis said. “We turned the ball over a couple of times, and you just can’t do it in late-game situations. You have to be sound and disciplined, and you have to do that on both ends of the floor. We just didn’t do it against them tonight.”

While Bacot moved to fourth on the UNC career rebounding list, moving past Billy Cunningham, he got off a season-low six shots for the second consecutive game (one of those after a rebound). He had only three games last season with six or fewer shots (two of them in losses to Pittsburgh and Purdue).

Carolina has to get Bacot, who had a team-leading 11.1 game score, more involved in the offense. He had only two shots and three points in the second half. He didn’t help the Tar Heels, though, with three turnovers in 79 seconds, starting with 2:41 left in the game.

UNC career rebounding leaders

1.       1,219   Tyler Hansbrough, 2005–09
2.       1,168   Sam Perkins, 1980–84
3.       1,097   George Lynch, 1989-93
4.       1,070   Armando Bacot, 2019–present
5.       1,062   Billy Cunningham, 1962–65
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

Iowa State disrupted UNC’s offense with the 1–3–1 zone it deployed in the final nine minutes. Davis said UNC was prepared for it even though the Cyclones had not used it before Friday night.

“We knew exactly what we wanted to get from it,” Davis said. “We got shots from it. One of the things that it does is takes you out of rhythm. One of the things you don’t want to do is just keep passing the ball at the top of the key over and over again. You want to attack those gaps, and get the ball below for the free-throw line extended and still penetrate and attack the basket to post for penetration and offensive rebounds.

“I felt like we got shots against it,” Davis said. “I don’t feel like it turned us over. We had wide-open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted. We just didn’t make those shots.”

Iowa State came into the game leading the country in forcing turnovers, and the physicality and pressure of the Cyclones’ defense created challenges with consistent pressure on the ball.

“In those situations, they kind of speed you up a little bit, and I felt like they did,” Davis said, adding that his team just didn’t make sound passes and fundamental plays. “That really hurt us.”

NOTES — Carolina faces No. 18 Alabama (5–1) in the consolation game at 3:30 Sunday (ESPN). The Crimson Tide beat No. 12 Michigan State 81–70 in the first round Thursday, then lost to No. 20 Connecticut 82–67 in Friday’s semifinals. … The Tar Heels are 8–4 all-time against Alabama and have won the last three meetings, including a 76–67 win on Nov. 27, 2019, in the Bahamas in the only meeting under Coach Roy Williams. … Roxy Bernstein and Bill Walton will be on the ESPN call of the game. … UNC fell to 193–92 as the No. 1 team with its first loss since a 71–67 defeat at Northern Iowa on Nov. 21, 2015. … Iowa State is 3–22 against No. 1 teams, with wins over Kansas in 1957 and Oklahoma in 2016. Carolina was 18 of 25 from the free-throw line but missed six attempts in the second half, including the front end of a one-and-one.

Iowa State 70, No. 1 UNC 65

UNC statistics

(current ranking)
28FridayW, 101–40Johnson C. Smith HomeExhibition
7MondayW, 69–56UNCWHome1–0
11FridayW, 102–86College of CharlestonHome2–0
15TuesdayW, 72–66Gardner-WebbHome3–0
20SundayW, 80–64James MadisonHome4–0
Phil Knight Invitational
24ThursdayW, 89–81First round: PortlandPortland5–0
25FridayL, 70–65Semifinals:
No. 11
Iowa State
27SundayL, 103–101,
4 OTs
No. 3 Alabama
ACC/Big Ten Challenge
30WednesdayL, 77–65 No. 18 IndianaBloomington, Ind.5–3
4SundayL, 80–72 Virginia TechBlacksburg, Va.5–4,
0–1 ACC
10SaturdayW, 75–59Georgia TechHome6–4,
1–1 ACC
13TuesdayW, 100–67The CitadelHome7–4
CBS Sports Classic
17SaturdayW, 89–84, OTOhio StateNew York8–4
Jumpman Invitational
21WednesdayW, 80–76MichiganCharlotte9–4
30 Friday L, 76–74PittsburghPittsburgh9–5,
1–2 ACC
4WednesdayW, 88–79Wake ForestHome10–5,
2–2 ACC
7SaturdayW, 81–64Notre DameHome11–5,
3–2 ACC
10TuesdayL, 65–58No. 8 VirginiaCharlottesville11–6,
3–3 ACC
14SaturdayW, 80–59LouisvilleLouisville, Ky.12–6,
4–3 ACC
17TuesdayW, 72–64Boston CollegeHome13–6,
5–3 ACC
21SaturdayW, 80–69No. 22 N.C. StateHome14–6,
6–3 ACC
24TuesdayW, 72–68SyracuseSyracuse, N.Y.15–6,
7–3 ACC
1WednesdayL, 65–64PittsburghHome15–7,
7–4 ACC
4SaturdayL, 63–57 DukeDurham15–8,
7–5 ACC
7Tuesday7 p.m.Wake ForestWinston-SalemESPN
11Saturday2 p.m.ClemsonHome ESPN2
13Monday7 p.m.No. 19 MiamiHomeESPN
19Sunday1 p.m.No. 22 N.C. StateRaleighESPN
22Wednesday9 p.m.Notre DameSouth Bend, Ind.ESPN or ESPN2
25Saturday6 or 8No. 8 VirginiaHomeESPN
27Monday7 p.m.Florida StateTallahassee, Fla.ESPN
ACC Tournament
If tickets for home games are available, you can purchase them here.
ACCN means the game airs on ACC Network.

Photo via @UNC_Basketball

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