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UNC vs. Notre Dame: Three Things Learned

The Heels are 1-0 in the ACC thanks to the ridiculous performance from Cole Anthony.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Alright folks, I’m going to try to get through this without putting the computer down and hitting some somersaults. Wish me luck.

Last night the North Carolina Tar Heels took down the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in what was a very early, intense, sloppy, unforgettable game. Both teams had their share of good and bad moments, with T.J. Gibbs and Prentiss Hubb giving the Heels quite a scare. However, it was the heroics of the dynamic UNC freshman that put this game out of reach for the Irish, and now we can all breathe, lower our blood pressure, and look forward to normal non-conference basketball...until the early Virginia game.

So what did we learn coming out of this game? Let’s go ahead and dive into some lessons that can be taken away from the big win.

UNC can be a really good defensive team

Right out of the gate, the one thing that impressed me the most about the team as a whole was their ability to cause frustrations for Notre Dame on the defensive side of the ball. They did a good job of clogging up the driving lanes for a good amount of the game, made shots (mostly) difficult on the perimeter, and all around looked like one of the more advanced defensive teams in the very first game of the regular season that we’ve seen from UNC.

The Tar Heels managed to limit Notre Dame to 35.3% shooting from the field and just 29% from three-point range. Gibbs, Hubb, and Mooney were really the only players that were able to get anything going, as Robby Carmody was the only other player to make more than one field goal. To be very clear: it wasn’t a perfect defensive performance, as there were definitely some issues that the Heels will want to address. However, if there’s anything that Heels fans should be excited about with this team, it’s the potential for just how good this defense can get once everyone begins to gel.

Things Fall Apart

While the defense was a promising development from last night, it wasn’t always perfect. Once Cole Anthony was on the bench for the Tar Heels, things unraveled so quickly that it’s likely you didn’t even have time to finish your favorite beverage. The Irish used that opportunity to go on a 12-2 run and eventually took the lead. Anthony re-entered the game and the Heels stole back the lead before the Irish went into halftime leading by one.

It wasn’t just the defense that was a mess when Anthony was out of the game — the Heels looked completely lost on offense while he was on the bench as well. The ball stopped moving nearly as well, terrible passes were made, and the shot selection suffered. The funny thing is that only Leaky Black and Justin Pierce’s field goal percentages were particularly poor, but in the moment when Anthony was on the bench it seemed like any and everything went wrong.

This is the very first regular season game and it was against an ACC opponent. There’s no reason to panic about what we saw from a Cole Anthony-less Heels team, but it goes without saying that they have a lot of work to do in finding a way to keep things together when he’s not in the game.

Cole Anthony is a Monster

It’s really hard to talk about this kid without sounding like I’ve lost my mind, but Cole Anthony had the best freshman debut in a Carolina uniform ever. In fact, the ACC shared another bit of information via Twitter last night after the game:

Scoring the most points ever in an ACC debut is an achievement that is staggering. Think about all of the great players that have played in the conference, particularly that one guy that played down the road last year, and you just have to stop and appreciate every bit of what we got to see someone do in a Carolina blue uniform.

When the game started, Cole was showing that he knew exactly how to play the point guard position. He was patient, he made the right passes into the post, knew when to pass up shots, and knew when to attack. One of his lower points in the first half was his perimeter shooting, but Anthony later told Adam Lucas on the radio that the glasses he was wearing threw off his depth perception. Once he took those off, he went Super Saiyan and there was nothing the Irish could do about it.

In the second half, Anthony scored a mind-blowing 23 points and made five of his eight three-point attempts. He finished the game with a rebound double-double, and I’m sure when Roy Williams looks back at the tape his assist-to-turnover ratio will be better than the box score states (he was +1 in that department). What’s even more amazing is he wasn’t just really good on offense, but his defense was extremely impressive. This kid hates to lose, and he showed that he will do everything in his power to make sure that the Tar Heels are competitive in every game this season.

Overall, when you look past Cole Anthony this was a pretty ugly game. None of that matters, however, as UNC is now 1-0 in conference play, and will look to improve to 2-0 against UNCW Friday night. Knowing that this team can and will improve is really exciting to think about, and I have a feeling that the talk around the program will only get louder and louder as time progresses.