A week off clearly did the Tar Heels good.
After a rough stretch where Carolina dropped both games at the Mohegan Sun, and then looked uninspired against UNC-Asheville, the Tar Heels stormed out with a new defensive focus against Michigan on Wednesday. On the strength of that defense and a blazing second half, Carolina pulled away and blew out Michigan 72-51.
Caleb Love led all scorers with 22, and had one of his best nights as a Tar Heel hitting some Curry-esque threes in a dominant second half performance. He went 9-16 overall, 4-7 from three, had four assists and only two turnovers. In fact, the Tar Heels as a whole had only had six turnovers after multiple games of handing the ball over to the opposition.
Speaking of defense-the Tar Heels showed an effort on defense they had yet to show all season, holding Michigan to 35.1% shooting overall, and forced 13 turnovers. Michigan’s second half shooting percentage was even worse, at 33.3%.
The Tar Heels led 29-27 in a sloppy, but speedy first half. It was clear from the outset that the team had worked on their defense, putting together a strong effort on that side of court. The Wolverines did have one hot shooter, Moussa Diabate, who went 5-6 for 11 points to lead all scorers for the half, but the rest of Michigan shot just 6-24, and most of those shots were heavily contested by the Tar Heels. They also forced six turnovers while only handing the ball over two times.
Unfortunately, the hot offense the Tar Heels had shown leading into the game cooled significantly. The Tar Heels only shot 13-36, lead by Love with 10 points. In another rarity for the Heels, they didn’t go to the free throw line once, although it was already the second time this season. In fact, only five fouls total were called in the half that went by in a hurry.
Diabate ended up leading Michigan’s scorers, but only netted two in the second half to finish with 13, and the Tar Heels kept the dangerous Hunter Dickinson to only four points. He was handcuffed with two fouls in the first half, and picked up two quick fouls in the second, as trying to guard Armando Bacot was just too much for the Sophomore.
Bacot would finish with 11 points and 14 boards for another double double, and Dawson Garcia also finished with double digits by scoring 14 on 6-12 shooting and 2-2 from behind the arc. Overall the Heels shot 46.3% for the game, and an astounding 58.1% in the second half when they realized quickly how they could dominate Michigan in the post. Once the Heels got it to double digits, it was over as Michigan couldn’t counter.
The Tar Heels are back in action on Sunday in Atlanta, as they open up ACC play against Georgia Tech at 3 PM.