After an initial scare that surely had UNC fans everywhere flashing back to the absolute worst parts of last year, the Tar Heels found their footing in their first game of the Maui Invitational in Asheville, North Carolina. After not scoring a point for the game’s first four minutes and change, Carolina shook off whatever was causing their scoring slump and cruised past the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, finishing the game with a score that indicates none of those initial struggles: 78-51.
The Heels started in a serious offensive funk, getting good lucks but being unable to sink them as the Rebels double teamed the post and dared the Heels to beat them with perimeter shooting. While they got good looks, shots from Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, and Kerwin Walton all refused to go down. Meanwhile, they also started red-hot from 3 and jumped out to a 13-0 lead at the under-16 break.
After that, though, an Andrew Platek three-pointer from the top of the key took the lid off the basket, and the Heels as a whole found their touch. R.J. Davis, Platek, Leaky Black, and Kerwin Walton all hit a three apiece, and this opened up the interior for UNC to run its offense much more smoothly. At the half, Davis, Platek, and Garrison Brooks all led the team with 8 points, and the Heels were up 37-30.
The Heels came out of the gate in the second half much better than they did in the first, going on an extended 20-6 run in the first 8 minutes as the UNC bigs started finding ways to score around the UNLV double teams, and some renewed energy on perimeter defense combined with natural regression for the Runnin’ Rebels meant that they went ice cold from beyond the arc. After shooting 4-7 from deep to start the game, they were just 2 for their next 19. And when over 60% of your attempts are from three-point land, that spells trouble.
At the under-12 timeout, UNC’s lead had ballooned to 21 points and they were rolling, mostly by continuing to make life miserable for the Rebels on the defensive end. Caleb Love in particular deserves a shout-out on that front: he didn’t have a good day shooting the ball after making his mark as a scorer in UNC’s first game, but he did have an excellent floor game with 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 blocks as he was constantly able to close out and get to shooters faster than they thought he could.
Through 15 minutes, UNC only allowed 9 points to UNLV and just kept up an offensive attack, and while it wasn’t the best offensive display we’ve seen from a Tar Heel team, it was plenty, and at the under-4 timeout, the Heels led 72-41 and the game was effectively over.
R.J. Davis led the Heels with 16 points, finding his shooting touch with a 3/4 mark from beyond the arc. Joining him in double figures were Garrison Brooks with 14, Armando Bacot with 12 (on 4/4 shooting and 4/4 from the free throw line), and Platek with 11. Brooks crossed the 1000-point mark for his career with his first made basket of the game, and after that played a lot freer and like the Brooks we had expected to see this year.
The Heels also owned the boards, with an overall 54-35 advantage. The big men all contributed, with at least 5 boards apiece, but they were all outpaced by Leaky Black, who reached 10 boards. One area that was lacking for the Heels was free throw shooting. They started the game 0-6 from the free throw line, and while this cleared up somewhat with the rest of their cold streak disappearing, a final line of 21/32 isn’t really what Roy Williams, or we as fans, want to see.
Also, the two biggest standouts from the Heels’ first game both struggled: Love finished just 2/9 from the floor for 5 points, while Day’Ron Sharpe looked befuddled by the Rebels’ double team and scored just 1 point while turning the ball over 4 times. He did pull in 6 rebounds, though. His freshman frontcourt teammate, Walker Kessler, had a much more impressive showing, going 3/3 from the field for 7 points to go with 6 rebounds in just 13 minutes.
The Heels will be back in action on Tuesday at 4:00 PM Eastern against the winner of the Alabama-Stanford game that has just tipped off at time of publication. We’ll have more information for you regarding that game once we know who the Heels are playing.