Yay, a game! We should genuinely be celebrating them when they happen now, because towards the end of UNC’s schedule, they look like they might start getting in short supply. But we got this one, thanks to some willingness to adjust on the part of Northeastern’s team leadership who’d had a game in Wilmington cancelled and decided to come down to warmer North Carolina anyways (having been mired in single-digit to negative-degree weather the past few days, I can’t blame them). And it worked nicely for the Heels, as they came out with a comfortable 82-62 win against one of the CAA’s best teams. A lot of things on offense worked, and, as has become almost custom this season, it was in large part thanks to Kerwin Walton, who earns Player of the Game honors with his 14 points on 5/10 shooting.
Walton was 3/7 from deep, including a four-point play, and hit a couple of midrange jumpers to complete his scoring output. On a day where UNC was 2/10 from three-point range other than Walton, his shooting was sorely needed to unlock the rest of the offense, which hummed along, as the Heels got 58 two-point attempts (an inflated number thanks to numerous missed layup-missed putback combos, but impressive), the two freshman point guards combined for 12 assists against 2 turnovers (including a career-high 9 for Caleb Love), and the team had a 2:1 assist-turnover ratio. A lot of this would not have happened if not for the space that Walton provided, and he also continued to show the ability to make teams pay for overly aggressive closeouts by taking a dribble or two inside and hitting open midrange shots moving forward or stopping on a dime — in other words, he forced Northeastern’s defense, just like he’s forced defenses all season long, to pay special attention to him, and that means that the other four guys on the floor got to play with a reduced fear of help defense they couldn’t see coming.
Walton also played a decent floor game with two assists and a steal versus just one turnover, and had some good defensive moments generally, though he’s still noticeably slow moving laterally against perimeter ballhandlers. But that’s just one growth area for an already very good and vital player for UNC’s success, and it’s certainly not debilitating. It just means Walton’s going to get better, given more time.
To me, Walton was the clear Player of the Game, but UNC had a couple of other standout performances. Day’Ron Sharpe led the Heels with 15 points on 7/14 shooting and grabbed 8 rebounds, and had some moments where he looked like he could simply overpower anybody and everybody on the floor on his way to the basket. He also missed a few too many opportunities to really put a stamp on this game, however. Walker Kessler had his second straight very good game, banking in his first three of the season and scoring 10 points on 4/8 shooting to go with 7 boards (3 on one possession), a steal, a block, and two assists, showing a lot more savvy, court awareness, and general readiness for the college game than he had in any appearance before this week, but that’s more great support than anything approaching a game takeover. Love’s 9 assists to 2 turnovers is a huge deal and will be a gift if it’s sustainable, but his own offense wasn’t quite as pretty, with just 2/8 shots going in. And Andrew Platek, as he’s been wont to do against less talented and/or athletic competition than the ACC offers, racked up stats quickly off the bench, shooting 4/5 for 9 points to go with 3 rebounds (2 offensive) and a steal.