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UNC vs. Northeastern: Three Things Learned

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A home game! A win! Hooray!

Northeastern v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

When the ACC announced that Virginia Tech’s trip to Chapel Hill was “postponed,” Carolina left their pride at the door and sought out competition wherever they could find it.

The Northeastern Huskies heroically answered the call and there was basketball last night, Hallelujah! The game had the feel of a pre-conference contest, as the Heels were able to run some action that wasn’t scouted and internalized by conference foes, and the size of Carolina eventually wore Northeastern down.

Confidence seems to be an issue at the moment for the Tar Heels, so this game was just the tonic for a team trying to capture some good mojo for the final stretch in ACC-play, whatever that might look like in the face of more and more postponements.

Double-Digit Scorers

After failing to register a single double-digit scorer in the loss to Virginia, Carolina had four against Northeastern, and Armando Bacot and Andrew Platek each scored nine points. Kerwin Walton, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Walker Kessler were all efficient, shooting 50% from the field. Garrison Brooks, who finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds, wasn’t nearly as economical. He shot a dismal 30% from the field, and didn’t really get his points until the second half, only scoring three in the opening frame.

At this point of the season, UNC can’t expect Garrison Brooks to raise his game to the ACC preseason “Player of the Year” level he was expected to be at last fall. But for Carolina to comfortably make the NCAA tournament, he needs to do better than he did against Virginia and Northeastern.

More of this is required, and stat!

Heroes on the other side

What is it about walking into the Dean Dome that makes random opponents turn into Jimmer Fredette?

Northeastern was a two-man show, with guard Tyson Walker eating in the first half, and Canadian forward Coleman Stucke getting hot from distance in the second half. Combined, these two accounted for 66% of Northeastern’s points. The third highest scoring Husky only had five points. Walker and Stucke both hit four three-pointers and shot 50% or better from downtown. But once Carolina accounted for them, the Huskies didn’t really have a Plan B.

Thanks to their +15 rebounding margin, Carolina took 16 more shots than Northeastern, half of those seemingly in one possession where Walker Kessler kept rebounding his own misses before putting it in. Credit the Huskies for trying, but their entire team doesn’t have a player over 6’9” while Carolina was subbing in 6’11” Sharpe and 7’1” Kessler. That’s bringing a knife to a bazooka fight.

Walker and Stucke couldn’t shoot with enough volume to keep Northeastern in the game long term and were gassed at the end of the game.

Caleb Love point-guarding

Everyone had a down day in Charlottesville, so let’s ignore that game for a moment. Caleb Love’s breakout against Duke was tremendous, and all 25 of his points were huge in a game won by only four points. But what I was pleasantly surprised with seven assists. Not so much with the five turnovers, but I don’t think that’s going to go away this season.

When you watch Caleb Love play, you can see the wheels in his head turning. He knows what to do, but it’s another matter to get his body to do what his mind is telling to do. Remember: he was a scoring guard in high school, and if you’ve watched any of his tape, there’s a lot of walking the ball up and breaking folks down with isolation.

He’s playing an entirely different game at UNC, and against top quality opposition. This is like knowing how to ski on snow, and trying to waterski... in shark and alligator-infested water.

Love’s scoring against Northeastern was down, as was his shooting percentage (6 points, 2-8 FGM, 0-4 3PM). But he pushed tempo, got Carolina into transition, and had 9 assists against only 2 turnovers. NINE!

This matchup did not require the Caleb Love that smashed Duke. UNC’s size advantage was so pronounced that if they didn’t feed the post on every possession, Roy would’ve had a manager go to the locker room, fetch one of his dapper Alexander Julian sportscoats, and done this:

Caleb managed the game and controlled action with his playmaking and defense; he also led the team with three steals. If Carolina has this version of Caleb Love running the show and can get three out of their four primary post players in double-figures scoring, the Tar Heels will suddenly become a tough out in March.