Carolina picked up its second win of the season yesterday with a 90-68 defeat of Lehigh. Although the Mountain Hawks cut the lead to three with less than 14 minutes to go, the Heels immediately responded with a 9-0 run and took full control of the game down the final stretch. Once again, there were reasons for optimism as well as areas that can be improved. Here’s what we learned.
This team still belongs to Mando and RJ
Much has been made of the offseason additions and all the ways they can contribute. Yesterday, though, was a reminder that this team returns two veteran, battle-tested players with a knack for putting the ball in the basket. And that’s what they did.
RJ Davis and Armando Bacot scored 22 apiece, accounting for basically half of the Heels’ scoring. In the aforementioned 9-0 scoring run, these two combined for six of those points to help get the squad back on track. While there are certainly capable scorers all over the roster, Davis and Bacot are still the top weapons.
Davis reminded us how reliable he can be shooting the ball when getting to his spots. This new roster should provide more catch-and-shoot opportunites, but he did most of his damage off the dribble against Lehigh. There aren’t many guards in college basketball better at generating high-percentage looks when working through ball screens. Davis got comfortable after knocking a few down early and the rest was history. He also had four rebounds and three steals and went 3-6 from downtown.
Bacot posted another silly stat line, adding 20 rebounds to go along with his 22 points. Recording his 70th career double-double by halftime, Bacot once again had a clear size advantage. He stayed aggressive throughout the game, though, and dominated the paint. Often facing just one defender, we got to see Bacot show off his handling and footwork down low. He looks as spry as ever and perhaps most encouraging of all, Bacot made all six of his free throws and is 11-12 at the stripe for the season.
When Elliot Cadeau’s shot starts falling, look out
Lehigh decided to play off Cadeau and allow him to shoot. While it was ultimately the right call, as he missed all three of his deep attempts, it takes a special type of player to blow past defenders who are giving you ten feet of space, which is exactly what Cadeau did. Opposing teams will always have to be cognizant of his explosiveness and playmaking ability, so what happens when he starts knocking down threes?
Admittedly, a couple of Cadeau’s deep tries were way off the mark, but he almost seemed surprised at the openings he was given. Cadeau did comfortably knock down a pull-up jumper around the right elbow in the first half. While the mid-range is likely where he’ll be most dangerous, Cadeau proved to be a capable three-point shooter in the high school ranks. Once that shot starts going down, figuring out how to guard him and the rest of this Carolina team becomes that much more difficult.
Rebounding should be a strength
After only out-rebounding an undersized Radford team by three, Carolina dominated the boards in this one, 52-31. While a big chunk of that came from Bacot, everyone managed to stay active on the glass, with 12 players recording at least one rebound. It was the extension of possessions during the second half that ultimately allowed the Heels to seize command of the game.
From a physical standpoint, this group has everything it needs to control the glass. Not only is Bacot the best in the business, but the Heels have long, athletic wings in Harrison Ingram and Jae’Lyn Withers. Paxson Wojcik is a high-effort guy who often finds himself in the right place at the right time. Jalen Washington and Zayden High are physical bigs off the bench with a nose for the ball. When everyone stays engaged and finds a man to box out, the ball will find a blue shirt.
Moreover, the versatility of a guy like Harrison Ingram creates dilemmas for opposing defenses. There were a few plays that had Ingram with the ball in the post, backing down a much smaller defender. With Bacot lodging himself in the paint and shooters all over the perimeter, Ingram was able to impose his will. Because of the attention that has to be shown to everyone else, Bacot is finding much more space for offensive boards and tip-ins.