Carolina’s grim slide continues, reaching four losses in a row after last night’s 80-72 loss at Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels will no doubt find solace as they finally return home long enough to sleep in their own beds and hold practice on consecutive days, but that luxury was not afforded to them for their ACC season-opener.
Making things worse, Armando Bacot’s shoulder injury from the Indiana game kept him out of the game, sliding Pete Nance to the five and Puff Johnson into the starting line-up at the four. Puff has played well since his return to the team following early knee issues, but he did not shine in his starting debut. He had zero points, rebounds, blocks, or steals in 14 minutes of action (less than one minute in the second half after he fouled Grant Basile on a post entry, and then gave up a 3-pointer to him after failing to get through a screen).
All this to say, Pete Nance was essentially all by himself in the post, pretty much all game long. This manifested itself in Virginia Tech’s rebounding advantage (39-25) and points in the paint (42-32). Carolina did not get their first offensive rebound until Dontrez Styles grabbed one with 15:11 left in the second half.
Nance excelled in keeping Carolina within touching distance during the first half. Both Caleb Love and RJ Davis got whistled for two fouls in the first frame, so they played 11 and 15 minutes respectively. Nance would sometimes be the primary offensive outlet on the team, and he responded with 9 points on 3-5 shooting, and added six rebounds.
In the second half when the junior guards came alive—both Love and Davis scored 12 points— Nance nearly matched their output, putting up another 9 points and added four more boards. Nance finished the game with a double-double, something UNC absolutely needed to have a chance, and his full court game when Coach Davis started to press led to an easy dunk and a top-of-the-key three.
One area that Nance needs to improve on is the pick-and-roll game with both Love and Davis. Nance had four turnovers on the night, and most of them came from not being on the same wavelength with his guard. With dedicated practice time and more in-game experience, expect that to smooth itself out.
Love had a great connection with Brady Manek, especially when he drove to the basket, and Manek would run the baseline for easy dunks. Nance usually meets Love and Davis at the elbow or top of the key, and it leads to bounce passes in the paint that Nance sometimes mishandles. Expect those to turn into dunks in the coming weeks.