Of the six scholarship freshman on this year’s team, two, Caleb Love and R.J. Davis, have started every game. Two more, Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler, have come off the bench in a loaded frontcourt, but were consensus top 20 recruits. There’s also Puff Johnson, who is a top 100 recruit and also the brother of recent UNC star Cam Johnson.
That leaves Kerwin Walton. He’s gotten a decent amount of playing time, averaging 10 minutes per game prior to Saturday, but had yet to make a real impression. He’s arguably the least heralded of the most recent class to enroll. Yet on Saturday, he outshone the rest of them in North Carolina’s 75-63 win over Kentucky.
Walton was the Tar Heels’ second-leading scorer, going for 13 points and also recorded one assist. However, he did that while having a perfect shooting night, going 3-3 from the floor, all from beyond the three-point arc, and 4-4 at the free throw line. Between that and the important point of the game in which he did his damage, Walton gets player of the game.
As seems to be the norm this season, the Tar Heels got off to a slow start in the first half. Seven minutes into the game, Kentucky had extended their lead out to 11 points. Over the next three minutes, UNC got that back down to two points. Part of that run came thanks to Walton, who knocked down the first of his threes during it. The game went back and forth for the rest of the half, with Kentucky taking a four-point lead into the break. Were it not for the run that came with Walton on the court, things could’ve gotten worse.
The two teams again traded points back and forth to start the second half. Walton checked back in with a little over 15 minutes left. A couple minutes later, Kentucky was up five when Walton hit another three. That started a run where the freshman scored eight consecutive points for the Tar Heels. During that time, Kentucky only added one point to their score. A pair of free throws with a little less than 12 minutes left that Walton hit gave UNC the lead for the first time in the second half. They would never relinquish it.
After that, some of the Heels’ bigger names took over and eventually put the game out of reach. Walton added his last two points to help close things out, and allowed him to finish with a +14 plus/minus. That was second behind Love’s +16, but Walton’s came in just 14 minutes.
Other possible contenders include Armando Bacot, who led UNC in scoring with 14 points, also grabbing eight rebounds. Love went for 11 points and six assists, and also reduced his turnovers, which have been his weak point, to just two. Sharpe had seven points, 11 rebounds, and two assists, while the ever reliable Garrison Brooks recorded 11 points and six rebounds. As has been the case most of this season, the box score was fairly balanced.
In a season of the unexpected, even down to the opponents, Walton was an unexpected but welcome great performance against Kentucky.