It wasn’t pretty. At all. Such is life when one team is loaded with freshmen and another full of upperclassmen, but Carolina managed to hold on against Bucknell, 93-81, Wednesday night in the Smith Center.
The night started well. The Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four Joel Berry made his season debut. He drained his first shot, a three pointer, and for fans it felt like the season had began in earnest. The good vibes continued as the Tar Heels built up a 16-point lead.
From that point, though, the experienced Bison started to chip away at that lead. Berry had trouble finding the mark the rest of the night, missing his next ten shots, finishing just 1-11 and with eight points. When Berry got his second foul, Bucknell was able to whittle the lead down to nine before halftime
The trend didn’t improve in the second half to start as the lead went all the way down to one point after Nana Foulland made a jumper with 12:40 left. The Bison had a chance to take the lead but missed an open three, and Luke Maye was able to sink two free throws. Bucknell was never quite as close.
With the news that Cam Johnson will be out for the next four to six weeks, Coach Williams got his first extended look a the personnel he’ll have available for the rest of the non-conference season. Williams substituted freely, and this led to some interesting lineups. At one time Seventh Woods, Joel Berry, and Andrew Platek shared the floor with Theo Pinson and Luke Maye. The inexperience of playing together showed.
Fouls helped Carolina keep their lead. Bucknell was whistled for seventeen fouls in the second half, and Carolina converted them for fifteen points at the line. It also put several of their players in foul trouble, helping thin out one of the deepest teams Carolina will play this season.
Luke Maye once again led the Tar Heels in scoring, this time putting in 20 on 6 of 12 shooting, 3 of 4 behind the line. Four other Tar Heels hit double digits, two were surprises: Theo Pinson, who scored a career-high 19 thanks to shooting 7-8 from the free throw line, and freshman big Sterling Manley, who scored 16 thanks to 6-10 shooting and 4-5 from the line. He also added 13 rebounds in only 17 minutes for his first career double-double. Kenny Williams and Garrison Brooks both chipped in 10. For Bucknell, the senior Foulland and sophomore Avi Toomer tied for team lead with 21 each.
It really was a tale of two halves: in the first half, Carolina shot 54.3 % from the field, and 44.4% from behind the arc. Those two plummeted in the second to 38.7% and 25.0%, respectively. The shooting woes expose a reality for this Carolina season: the shots will be coming further away from the basket than fans are used to, and when those shots don’t fall, runs like the one Bucknell went on will happen. The assist to turnover ratio was also rougher than against NIU, just 19 versus 13.
A good stat for the Tar Heels, however, was the rebounding. Despite the inexperience, Carolina still managed to outrebound Bucknell 47-28. Even more telling was Bucknell’s seven offensive rebounds to Carolina’s 31 defensive boards. Bucknell was mostly limited to one shot when it went up.
Carolina now leaves Chapel Hill for two weeks for a west coast swing. Next up, ex-assistant Jerod Hasse and the Stanford Cardinal next Monday night before the PK80 tournament in Portland.