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UNC Basketball vs. Purdue: Three Things Learned

Hubert Davis and his Tar Heels shouldn’t be disheartened by the Purdue loss, green chutes are everywhere.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Purdue Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina got a taste of their own (historical) medicine during last night’s 93-84 loss to Purdue. Armando Bacot, usually the biggest player on the court, was dwarfed by 7’4” Zach Edey, and fouled out having played just 17 minutes and scored only 2 points. The Heels didn’t have an answer for Purdue’s size, especially when it was paired with early hot shooting from senior guard Sasha Stefanovic. Let’s review what we learned from the first loss of the Hubert Davis era.

Variety is the spice of life

Dawson Garcia became the fourth Tar Heel in four games to lead the team in scoring, joining Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, and Armando Bacot. Garcia was huge in this game, showing a deft touch on the perimeter that would usually hint at a more inefficient line, but behold! The Marquette-transfer was 3-5 from beyond the arc, and hit two jumpers with his foot on the line.

Garcia’s shooting touch was crucial on the night as it prevented Purdue from planting two men in the paint. With the spacious paint, Caleb Love and R.J. Davis had joy getting to the rim (Anthony Harris and Kerwin Walton, not as much). This would not be possible if Garcia shot like he did against Brown or College of Charleston.

Garcia increased his shooting percentage and number of 3pt shots taken, partly out of necessity due to Purdue’s size. Carolina fans will remember from last season’s Marquette loss, long-range shooting is a key component of his game. The more Garcia shoots, the better for UNC.

Carolina is tough

Purdue led the entire first half, going up by as much as 10, but could never build a huge lead thanks to timely Carolina runs. The Boilermakers shot well (56% from the floor, 43.5% from three), including two Stefanovic three-pointers off of consecutive turnovers by Walton and Bacot. This six-point swing would have floored last year’s team, but these Heels dug in and never let the game get out of hand.

The six-point margin at halftime grew and shrank at the beginning of the second half, until Dawson Garcia put the Heels up one with 9:21 left. That 65-64 lead was the only one Carolina had in the game. Purdue responded immediately with a free throw, two threes, and an And-1 to swing the game ten points.

This is when most teams would roll over, making the result academic. Carolina knuckled down and kept shrinking the lead before Purdue could respond. It was like a prize fight with both teams landing multiple shots to the face.

This loss and the manner that Carolina responded will result in a win despite a 2nd half deficit during conference play. Mark it down.

One hand behind our back

With Leaky Black missing due to non-COVID illness (code for diarrhea, I believe), it was always going to be tough for Carolina to defend KenPom’s fourth most efficient offense. The Heels were already giving up 79 ppg in their three wins.

Bacot struggled with Purdue’s size, and Black was unlikely to help corral their posts. But where he would have come in handy was defending Jaden Ivey, who was spectacular, scoring 22 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and dishing out 6 assists. Leaky would have been a tremendous help limiting Ivey from streaking to the hoop, or at least could bother him at the rim with his reach.

Additionally, Hubert Davis could have switched Black to guard Stefanovic, especially before he hit his first three 3-pointers in a row to start the game. If Black was healthy and available, I’m not sure Purdue doesn’t still pull out a win, but the margin certainly would have been closer, and the Boilermakers probably wouldn’t have any 10-0 runs.