For those of you who were hoping for the Tar Heels to play an entire 40 minutes of quality of basketball, this was the closest they have gotten to that so far this season. The Heels came out of the gate firing on all cylinders against James Madison behind excellent performances from Armando Bacot and RJ Davis, and ultimately they left the Dean Dome with an 80-64 win to improve their record to 4-0.
After three sub-par first halves against their previous opponents, UNC played like they had something to prove to open this one. Their defense against James Madison was sharp, and they did a great job moving the ball on offense to find quality shots. RJ Davis was a huge factor, scoring 12 points and logging four assists with just one turnover. The ball didn’t feel like it was sticking nearly as much as it has in previous games, and when a player like Davis or Bacot did try to take their man one-on-one, they had a lot of success. Speaking of Bacot, he punished JMU on the boards, recording 11 of his career-high 23 rebounds in the first half alone.
In the second half things weren’t quite as sharp for the Tar Heels. The Dukes found a way to get their offense going in the opening minutes, and were being much more aggressive on defense. UNC’s incredible offense suddenly crawled to the finish line thanks to their 37.5% field goal percentage in the second half, and only hit 11.9% of their three-point attempts.
We also need to address the elephant in the room that is the referees, because after fouling just eight times in the first half, the Heels picked up 14 fouls in the second. To be fair, James Madison fouled 12 times in the second compared to their nine in the first, but the quality of the foul calls were pretty bad overall. There were countless replays that were shown of pushes that weren’t pushes, feet allegedly set when they weren’t set, and shoulders were lowered in the post that weren’t actually lowered. I want to be clear: these calls didn’t do enough to manipulate the outcome of the game in either direction, but it’s really frustrating when the referees make it a point to let everyone know they are still in the building by slowing the game down.
Turning our attention back to UNC, Armando Bacot had his 50th double-double of his UNC career, giving him the sixth-most double-doubles in Carolina basketball history. He also was one point shy from a 20/20 game, which he probably would’ve gotten had he not ran into some foul trouble near the end of the game. Regardless, this is exactly the kind of performance that Hubert Davis needed out of his preseason All-American, and hopefully he will be just as effective during the Phil Knight Invitational.
Overall, this arguably was UNC’s best performance of the season so far, but their second half performance certainly leaves that up for debate. A lot of credit goes to James Madison, who ramped up the intensity to end the game, but it still feels like we’re chasing the elusive 40-minute performance from the best team in the country. Perhaps we will finally get that when they take on Portland this Thursday.