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UNC vs. Elon Three Things Learned

The bigs had a strong performance last night, despite an uninspired performance from the rest of the team.

NCAA Basketball: Elon University at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

After needing the better part of the first half to get things going, the Tar Heels came away with the 75-61 victory against Elon. The Phoenix shot the lights out from deep to open the game, leaving behind the hapless Heels who struggled to get things going from the perimeter. Thankfully, Roy Williams had his team play to their strengths down low for much of the rest of the game, and things improved and kept this conversation from being bleaker than it very well could’ve ended up.

There’s a lot to unpack in this game, including the fact that Cole Anthony had a rough shooting night but still almost finished with a triple-double. Let’s take a look at just three things that we can take away from the win, and discuss how things are shaping out before the Heels take off for the Bahamas.

The big men showed big potential

Finishing a basketball game with a 15.8% shooting percentage from three is sub-optimal to say the least. It was clear that playing the perimeter game was going nowhere, and that’s when the Heels turned to Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot to dig them out of the hole that they were in.

Garrison Brooks finished with a “quiet” 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and shot 50% from the field. The reason it was a “quiet” performance? Armando Bacot. The freshman big had a stellar performance, finishing the game with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks. He did a great job of utilizing his size and strength to finish at the rim, and crashed the offensive boards enough to keep some ugly plays from remaining as such. Between the two bigs, they finished with 36 points, 20 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 3 blocks. It’s pretty astonishing to look at, but it gives this team a lot of hope that they will be able to dominate in the paint, which should give the shooters better looks on the perimeter.

The one cold water statement that must be made: the Tar Heels were much bigger and stronger than Elon. While this performance was promising from the bigs, we’ll have to wait and see if they will be able to keep this same energy next week.

Broken Wings

While Bacot and Brooks finished the game shooting 57% from the field, the rest of the team wasn’t as fortunate. UNC minus the two bigs finished the game shooting 33% from the field, with admittedly a large amount of that coming from Cole Anthony’s poor shooting night. However, when focusing on the wings in particular, the only one that managed to shoot at a halfway decent clip was Christian Keeling, who finished the night shooting 44.4% from the field. Considering what the three-point shooting was like, it goes without saying that the Heels were very fortunate that they were playing Elon, as tougher competition would’ve (and probably will) rip them apart if they have shooting nights like this.

Here’s the good news: Cole Anthony likely will not shoot this poorly more nights than he will. The bad news? We still don’t know where his help is coming from as far as the two and three spots are concerned. Leaky Black finally drained some shots from deep, making 2-4 of his three-point attempts. From there, Keeling was the only other Tar Heel to make a three-pointer, and there were 19 attempts made. To put it simply: if the Heels aren’t able to hit some of these three-point attempts, this is going to be one of Roy Williams’ teams that makes Tony Bennett lick his chops. They have to find a way to take pressure off of the big men by making some shots from the perimeter, or they could be in big, big trouble in the Bahamas.

Slow starts will bury this team

To say that UNC sputtered out of the gate against Elon would perhaps be the understatement of 2019. The Phoenix jumped out to an 11-4 lead thanks to some unreal shooting and UNC struggling mightily to get their offense going. It wasn’t until the 8-minute mark in the first half that the Heels managed to tie the game before ultimately going into halftime down by one. After what was inevitably a fiery pep talk delivered by Roy Williams in the locker room, the team came out and outscored Elon 43-28 to finish the game.

Seeing this type of slow start against a team like Elon is terrifying to say the least. Knowing the field that is waiting for them in the Bahamas, one can only imagine that a slow start could be a first-round haymaker to their chances of going into December undefeated. The good news is that if the bigs continue to play well and Cole Anthony gets his shooting straightened out, it may be easier to avoid this fate. However, if the team continues their trend of starting slow, things aren’t looking good for Thanksgiving weekend.

To sum things up, last night’s game was the type of game that should serve as a wake-up call for a team that managed to avoid a loss. Starting games with such a lack of energy and focus isn’t typically a long-term concern, but should be more of an immediate concern now that the non-conference schedule gets much harder from this point forward. Here’s hoping that they learned as much as we did from the experience, and that we see a more focused, energetic team next week.