The North Carolina Tar Heels kept their win streak alive last night by taking down Furman, 74-61. It wasn’t exactly the easiest win of the season, as the two teams went into halftime tied up before the Heels blew the doors off in the second half. Dawson Garcia had an impressive outing, scoring 20 of UNC’s points, most of which were scored in the first half. The Heels will now square off against #4 UCLA as red hot as they could be, and truly it should be one of the better games we’ve seen between these two teams in quite a while.
Let’s go ahead and dive into three things we learned in UNC’s win over Furman.
No Small Victory
Sure, it’s easy for Heels fans to look at an opponent like Furman and think that it should be an almost guaranteed win. It’s always super easy to think that way when it’s not a Power Five opponent, but the fact of the matter is that the Paladins are a very talented team that could show up to the NCAA Tournament in March. They proved that they could hang with the big boys when they went to overtime with Louisville, and they proved it against last night during the first half against the Tar Heels.
Dawson Garcia sprinted out of the gate in the opening minutes of the game to put the Heels up 7-0, and the Heels managed to extend their lead to eight before Furman started closing the gap. Alex Hunter caught fire, scoring a nonsensical 17 points to close out the first half, and only missed two of his eight shots. As a team, the Paladins made 53% of their shots in the opening half, and made as high as 70% of their shots in the first 10 minutes.
From there things didn’t go quite as well for Furman — the Paladin had a scoring drought that lasted over five minutes in the final ten minutes of the half, and the Heels slammed the door completely shut. Credit should go to the Paladin for putting up the fight they did, but truly UNC had no reason to lose this game as they were the bigger, more talented team. However, it’s worth noting that Furman is the third highest ranked team according to KenPom that the Heels have beaten. It won’t go down as a big win in the NET rankings (which, they have a Quad 1 win logged in those rankings), but still, this game was a more impressive one than it appears on the surface.
Kerwin Walton’s Disappearing Act
The name of this section normally would imply that Kerwin Walton has been playing poorly as of late, but the truth is that he didn’t play last night until the final seconds of the game. One would have to imagine that he was healthy since he did go into the game with roughly 30 seconds left, so then the question is: why isn’t he playing?
The answer to that question likely has to do with how tight of a rotation Hubert Davis has been playing as of late. He essentially played a seven-man rotation against the Paladins, with Anthony Harris and Brady Manek coming off of the bench. Davis has been preaching defense throughout the season so far, and has stated that he his starting lineups will be his best defensive players. However, it seems like this mentality may now apply to who comes off of the bench as well, because Walton definitely isn’t known for his defensive prowess. We’ve so far seen Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn ride the bench as well, so if this really is the reason for Walton’s disappearance, it wouldn’t surprise me.
Will Kerwin Walton see more minutes against UCLA? That’s a question that only Davis can answer, but what I will say is this: UNC has weirdly enough not missed Walton’s shooting too much, as the Heels have been shooting at a 41.7% clip from deep. Regardless, it’d be nice to see Walton get more minutes, and hopefully also return to his sharpshooting form.
Bacot’s Slow Start
Not to pick nits, but it was really odd seeing Armando Bacot get off to as slow of a start as he did for how undersized Furman was. Dawson Garcia and Brady Manek were feasting in the paint to open the game, but Bacot finished the first half with just four points off of four shooting attempts. It’s reasonable to assume that the hot hand was being fed when it came to Garcia, so Bacot didn’t need to do as much, but it still would’ve been nice to see him use the opportunity to dominate in the paint, which is exactly what we saw in the first half.
Bacot destroyed the Paladins in the paint in the second half, managing to score 10 of his 14 points and threw in five rebounds. He managed to get to the rim a few times for some big dunks, and late in the game even finally attempted a missed three-pointer. Overall he had a very impressive outing, as he always does, but I still can’t help but wonder if the game would’ve been tied going into the half if he had gotten more touches in the paint. Not exactly a huge deal in such a decisive win, but they may need him to dominate for 40 minutes against a more talented team of the same size one of these days.