We are all familiar with the expectation-tempering line, “It’s only an exhibition game.” 99% of the time, teams playing well in an exhibition game deserve to hear those words, but tonight isn’t one of those nights. Hubert Davis’ Tar Heels looked more impressive in their 117-53 win over St. Augustine’s than just about any game they played last season. The defense looked better, the offense looked much better, and most importantly, everybody looked like they were on the same page. This is the recipe for success, and it looks like the 2023-24 Tar Heels could be a legitimate threat in the ACC.
UNC senior guard RJ Davis opened the game by reminding us that his three-point shooting last season only struggled thanks to his hand injury. Davis finished the first half making five of his six attempts from deep, leaving St. Augustine’s without an answer for his red-hot shooting. He finished the game with a team-high 22 points, three assists, and a rebound. Notre Dame transfer Cormac Ryan and Stanford transfer Harrison Ingram got in on the action, making a couple of three-pointers apiece. The Heels shot 56% from deep in the first half, which was a refreshing change from how things went last year in that department.
Of course the question on everyone’s mind has been whether or not Elliott Cadeau is as advertised, and so far it seems like the answer is a resounding yes. Cadeau showed off his excellent vision and passing, and even knocked down some shots for good measure. He finished the game with seven points and four assists, but his four fouls kept him from doing much else. That’s an issue that Hubert Davis is going to have to address with Cadeau before they get into regular season play, but truly that is the biggest criticism so far. We will undoubtedly see some highs and lows throughout the season, but overall Cadeau’s skills as a facilitator are the best we’ve seen since Kendall Marshall, and it’s not even close.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night is that the star of this year’s Tar Heel team didn’t have to be the star to have an impact. Fifth-year senior Armando Bacot finished the night with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. He made 50% of his shots from the field, but the really interesting part is that he only took six shots. If the Heels scored 117 points last season, one would’ve assumed that Bacot shot the ball 25 times in order for that to happen, which says something about how deep this year’s team seems to be.
Other notable performances of the night included an impressive debut from freshman forward Zayden High, a hot shooting night from Jalen Washington, and...Creighton Lebo scoring 11 points off 4-5 shooting? There was a lot to like in Carolina’s first game of the season despite the context of it being an exhibition game. Everything about this team just feels different from last season. They played with hunger, they played with excitement, and they played with more focus than we saw all of last season. Could they prove me wrong once the regular season starts and make us all uncomfortable for the next five months? Sure, but they did a good job of convincing us that things are different this time around.
Next up for the Heels is their regular season opener against Radford on November 6th at 7pm in the Dean Smith Center.