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UNC vs. Notre Dame: Three Things Learned

No Nance, no problem: Carolina turned up the pressure and let their defense do the talking.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at North Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Pete Nance sat out yesterday’s game against Notre Dame, so you’d forgive Tar Heel fans for being a bit nervous going into a match-up with a team that has given UNC fits in recent seasons. Turns out, Carolina threaded the good vibes from the last 14 minutes of the Wake Forest win and great bench contributions to into an emphatic 81-64 win. Here are three things learned from the triumph over the Irish.

Heels throw a block party, and ND was invited!

It’s been a while since UNC has had a true rim protector. The days of John Henson, and to a lesser extent Brice Johnson, are over. But it was nice to see Fighting Irish driving to the basket, only to get their shots swatted into the rafters—or in Tar Heel defenders’ hands.

The Tar Heels totaled six blocked shots, two each for Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, and... Seth Trimble? Yes! The 6’3” point guard, rapidly becoming known for his tough defense and quick feet also had two rejections. His defense is so good, and he stays so close to the ball handler, that when the shot comes, he seems three inches taller.

Carolina had an overall size advantage (marked by their +13 rebounding margin), and really used it to bolster their defense in a way they hadn’t really shown yet this season. The Heels will probably not block as many shots against Virginia—though Leaky could get a few on Kihei Clark if he draws that assignment again—but there are smaller teams in the ACC that they can aggressively attack on defense.

Good Caleb is back with a vengeance

After two poor games in a row against Pitt and Wake Forest, Caleb Love shook loose and had a screamer against Notre Dame—particularly in the first half!

After hitting the game’s opening shot on a corner 3-pointer, Caleb finished the first half with 13 points on 5-8 shooting (3-4 from deep!) and was the only Tar Heel to play all 20 minutes. For the game, Caleb finished with 18 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals, and had the highest +/- of any player with +17.

Hubert Davis has shown that he’ll keep a hot hand in the game, and it was nice that Caleb was left in for so long to let the crowd’s love soak into his bones. In addition to his scoring duties against Notre Dame, he also carried the halftime show, featuring on the corner jumbotrons in a collaboration with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York:

Carolina’s bench leaving their mark

UNC is not known for giving a lot of minutes to its bench. It does not have a leading sixth man. Hubert Davis is showing that he’ll call players off the bench based on match-ups and game situations.

Credit then goes to the bench players for staying mentally sharp, waiting for their opportunity, and performing when it arrives. Special shout-outs go out to:

  • D’Marco Dunn, who had a perfect shooting day, going 2-2 from the field (with a 3-pointer and a strong offensive rebound with a put-back) and 2-2 from the line.
  • Puff Johnson, who exploded for 11 points on 4-5 shooting (2-3 from 3-point range) and six rebounds.

Puff Johnson and Seth Trimble were both particularly tough on defense, when Carolina switched a lot of high screen action, and suddenly found Bacot guarding on the perimeter, and Nate Laszewski and Dom Campbell backing into them. They took their lumps, but also forced the Notre Dame bigs into sub-optimal shots that were boarded by Carolina and turned into transition opportunities.

They need to keep this up against Virginia, who will grind the game down and look to deny quick guard play. If Carolina can get some quick turnovers turned into transition buckets, the Heels have a chance to pull an upset in Charlottesville.