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UNC Basketball: Differences

This year’s been a bit different, why wouldn’t this team?

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Kentucky Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

I want to make it clear up top, and I’ll try to keep as much glee as possible out of my (written) voice; Kentucky is not a very good team this year. The Wildcats have lost five in a row, and were given all they could handle by the young Carolina squad on Saturday, even after yet another of those all-too-familiar slow starts spotted them a halftime lead. The Heels only led for around a minute and a half of game time in the first half, and headed to the locker room with a four point hole waiting for when they retook the floor.

The Heels trailed by double digits early, then were looking at a seven-point deficit as the time drained from the first-half clock. Last year, that would have been right about when that creeping dread started to form in the pit of my stomach. Last season, I may have turned the channel when the Heels went back down by six with about seven minutes gone in the second half, the icy fingers of premonition creeping up and down my back as I scanned the guide for something, for anything else to watch. Twelve months ago, even against a team like this downtrodden Kentucky team, a seven point lead would have felt nearly insurmountable.

This year has been different, in a multitude of ways. My money says it will continue to be different, even as the season bridges the gap from 2020 to the promise of 2021. This team is also different, though. Freshman Kerwin Walton was 3-3 from long range in Saturday’s contest, providing a much-needed boost from outside, The last Tar Heel to shoot 100% from behind the arc while attempting more than a single three-pointer was Andrew Platek, almost exactly a year prior (he went 2-2 on December 18th, 2019, in a 13-point loss to Gonzaga). As a matter of fact, that was the only time that particular feat was achieved during the entirety of last season. It remains to be seen whether Walton will continue to grow into a credible threat from deep, but Saturday’s performance was promising from a young player.

On Saturday, Walton didn’t simply shoot as well as any Tar Heel in the last two seasons of basketball, he also broke a tie with just under twelve minutes left in the game to give the team from Chapel Hill the lead for good. A Carolina team, fighting back from a double-digit deficit in a game in which outside shooting was a turning point? That would have been hard to imagine. Like I said, this team is different.

But, for once this year, I don’t mind the difference.