Love shows Heels won’t be bullied as they roll past Irish

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — Caleb Love’s critics came out after his performance against Pittsburgh, but he was strong in many ways as North Carolina looked dominant at times in dispatching Notre Dame.

Love scored 18 points and three 3-pointers in Carolina’s 81–64 victory Saturday over the Irish in the Smith Center, but it was his reaction to a second-half incident that showed his leadership.

The sixth win in the last seven games for UNC (11–5, 3–2 ACC) was a strong indication that the Tar Heels’ season is back on track, and Love sent a clear message that nobody is going to bully them.

Love, who played the first 32½ minutes and ended up with 36, came to Puff Johnson’s defense after a flagrant foul from Notre Dame’s Cormac Ryan. After the foul during Johnson’s dunk and falling on him, Ryan appeared to kick Johnson afterward, and Love wasn’t having it.

“When I saw him extend his foot, I kind was in defense mode for my teammate,” said Love, who has a 3-pointer in a school-record 44 consecutive games. “That’s just the type of player I am. Anybody that does anything against my teammates, I’m going to stand up for him. That’s just the kind of teammate I am.”

Love made his feelings clear to Ryan.

“I just told him don’t do that again,” said Love, who also had words with Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson after he got kicked Love in an ugly incident during the Tar Heels’ 80–76 win Dec. 21 in Charlotte.

UNC coach Hubert Davis admitted that he couldn’t see much of the sequence, but he liked the aftermath other than the technical foul.

“I love our team standing up for each other and Caleb standing up for Puff,” Davis said. “I support that; I encourage that every day. That’s one of the many things that makes Caleb such a great teammate.”

Armando Bacot, who put up his ninth double-double of the season and 68th of his career with 21 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, said the whole sequence was just players competing. His view was that it was just putting on a show for the fans.

“I think it’s kind of fun when stuff like that happens and kind of seeing everybody’s reactions,” said Bacot, who wasn’t surprised by Love’s reaction. “That’s kind of like the person Caleb is, too. Even in practice sometimes, especially in the summer. Me and Caleb will fight a little bit. He’s always like play-fighting, doing stuff like that. So that’s just kind of his personality.”

Love may not be Carolina’s answer to a hockey enforcer, but expect the same reaction if another team takes liberties with one of his teammates.

“I’ve always got my teammates’ back in any situation, any circumstance,” Love said. “Something like that — somebody trying to kick my teammate in the face — I don’t like that.”

When Love delivered his fiery words to Campbell, Johnson had no idea why he was doing that because he didn’t know what happened.

“With the amount of time that this team spends together, it just really shows on the court,” Johnson said. “He had my back even though I was confused by what happened. The whole team has everyone’s back, and we’re very, very connected as a unit. So that just really shows.”

Johnson scored a season-high 11 points and tied his career-high with six rebounds in 22 minutes, his second-most minutes this season behind the 48 he played in the 103–101 double-overtime loss against Alabama on Nov. 27.

“I thought I ran into the camera guys because I know I was near the camera guys,” Johnson said of the photographers who are along the baseline. “So, I thought I hit the camera. But I didn’t even see the replay. I need to, because, at that point, my eyes were probably closed, honesty.”

Johnson thought that Campbell fell on him.

Love’s actions were one exclamation point on an impressive victory, and he had another one with a tomahawk dunk in the first half. He said he decided he was going to do that at about half court.

Love said he knew nothing about the criticism that targeted him after the Wake Forest game because he deleted all social media from his phone.

“My mom told me to do that. And so it’s just put me in a better mental space not to pay attention to the outside noise,” Love said.

Bacot’s quickness to pass out of double teams made Carolina’s offense much more effective. He had four assists after dishing out a career-high five against Wake Forest and could have had at least two more if not for missed shots by teammates.

“Today, I knew I would get a double-double because Notre Dame, they never really crash the boards on offense,” Bacot said. “So I know there would be a lot of rebounds for me.”

Bacot helped limit Nate Laszewski to one 3-point attempt after he scored six 3-pointers last season in Notre Dame’s 78–73 win in South Bend.

“We made an emphasis all week to kind of limit him,” Bacot said. “We were able to switch everything, and I think that kinda threw him off. Usually, you don’t get five players that can switch and guard everybody, and I thought today we did a good job switching.”

RJ Davis collected 11 points, five rebounds and five assists, pushing the Tar Heels to 17–1 in the last three seasons when he has at least five assists.

“One of the things that we talked about that we need is consistent energy and consistent production coming off the bench,” Coach Davis said, noting the play of Johnson, D’Marco Dunn, Jalen Washington and Justin McKoy. “Whoever came off the bench, I just thought they brought energy, they brought life, solid plays on both ends of the floor and you know that’s what we need. And they played extremely well today, and I was really proud.”

UNC followed up on its good second-half defense against Wake Forest with an active game on the defensive end against Notre Dame. UNC outrebounded the Irish 45–32, and pulled down 13 offensive rebounds, a season-high for a regulation game (the Tar Heels had 14 in the overtime win over Ohio State and 13 in the four-overtime loss to Alabama).


With Pete Nance still working through a strained back suffered at Pittsburgh, freshman Seth Trimble made his first career start. He showed tenacity on defense and jumping ability with two blocks in the first nine minutes to make the three-guard lineup work once again.

“One of the things we thought about was how we can match up with them defensively,” Coach Davis said of starting three guards. “I was thinking what could start off in the best position for us defensively in terms of matchups. And so Seth is a gifted defender. He played extremely well in the Wake Forest game and we felt like we wanted to start the game like that.”

UNC jumped to a 10–6 lead on an RJ Davis 3-pointer four minutes in but then went scoreless for the next four minutes as Notre Dame took a three-point lead after a 7–0 run.

But two Bacot layups started a 14–5 UNC run accentuated by Love’s dunk and ended on Washington’s jumper with 8:05 left to push Carolina up 24–18. Five consecutive points after a Laszewski 3-pointer shoved the lead to 10.

A Love 3-pointer with 1:44 left gave Carolina a 41–28 halftime lead, matching its largest in five ACC games this season (also against Georgia Tech.)

Notre Dame chopped a lead that UNC grew to 16 early in the second half to seven when Cormac Ryan’s 3-pointer capped a 7–1 Irish run with 8:25 left. However, Carolina responded with a 7–0 run and wasn’t threatened after that.

Laszewski led the Irish (8–8, 0–5) with 17 points and the got 10 points each from J.J. Starling and Dane Goodwin.

NOTES — Carolina goes from an 11:30 a.m. start to a 9 p.m. start Tuesday at Virginia (ESPN). The No. 11 Cavaliers (11–3, 3–2), which beat Syracuse at home Saturday night 73–66 after losing Tuesday at Pittsburgh 68–65, and are led by fifth-year guard Kihei Clark (11.9 points per game), fifth-year forward Jalen Gardner (11.4) and senior Armaan Franklin (11.0). … Coach Davis says Nance’s back is getting “dramatically better” every day and hopes he’ll be able to practice Sunday and be ready to play Tuesday. … Carolina wore late 1960s, early 1970s throwback uniforms. … Charlotte native Trey Wertz, a fifth-year player, was out of Notre Dame’s starting lineup for the first time this season, replaced by fifth-year guard Marcus Hammond. … UNC is 28–9 in the series with the Irish, including 12–5 since they joined the ACC, 9–1 in Chapel Hill and 8–1 at the Smith Center. … It was Bacot’s 18th career game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds and his 65th with 10 or more rebounds. He tied Duke’s Randy Denton (1968–71) for 10th in ACC history with 58 double-doubles and is two away from Billy Cunningham’s school record. … Bacot has a career-high five consecutive 20-point games and 12 assists in the last three games, including nine in the last two wins. … UNC is 6–2 this season and 19–5 in the last four seasons when Bacot scores at least 20 points. … Carolina, averaging 4.2 blocks entering the game, blocked five in the first half and finished with six. … This was the seventh straight game UNC had more assists than turnovers. The Tar Heels are 6-1 in those games. That followed a four-game stretch, all of which UNC lost, when Carolina had more turnovers than assists.

UNC 81, Notre Dame 64

UNC lineup combinations


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.

Photos via @UNC_Basketball

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