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Heel Tough Blog: Appalachian State Recap

Carolina earned their ninth on the season, as they took care of App State 70-50 in the Smith Center. Carolina closes out the non-conference portion of their schedule with an 8-3, as they have already secured an ACC win over Georgia Tech earlier this month. The 9 wins for the Tar Heels are the most before Christmas since the 2017-18 season. Carolina was powered by Armando Bacot’s 8th double-double of the season, as the Tar Heels put four players in double figures scoring, as they shot 47% from the field, including 44% from behind the three-point line. Following the Kentucky loss, a lot was made about Carolina’s needing to respond, and they did just that, as they held the Mountaineers to just 50, the lowest of the season. App State shot just 31% from the field, and were only 4-30 from behind the arc, negating any chance at pulling the upset on the road.

It was imperative for Carolina to get back on track before the Christmas break, as once they return it is all ACC games for the rest of the regular season. It was an all-around bounce-back game for the team, led by R.J. Davis who scored 15 points on 7-10 shooting, after spraining his ankle early in the contest. Brady Manek secured his first double-double as a Tar Heel with 11 points, and 11 rebounds. Most importantly, Kerwin Walton was engaged, scoring 6 points, making 2-3 triples, while playing significant minutes in the second half. Add in the Tar Heels 47-33 rebounding advantage, 38-28 advantage in paint points, it’s easy to see why Carolina quick made work of the Mountaineers in the second half.

This team is still a work in progress, and that was expected given the coaching change and the roster turnover. While the eggs against Tennessee and Kentucky can’t be taken away, this team has responded nicely to adversity twice this season. Slowly but surely you can see the vision Hubert Davis has for the program on the floor coming together, as the Tar Heels look to return to the nation’s elite:

  1. Defense: Tonight might’ve been the best performance so far defensively from Carolina, and it is something they can build off of moving forward. By allowing just 50 points, it is now seven times they’ve held opponents under 70 points, and the sixth time they’ve held opponents to under 63 points. Hubert Davis adjusted the way they defended ball screens and their switching action and received positive results. He also threw out a full-court press, something we haven’t seen much of this season. Ultimately this team will be as good defensively as they choose to be, but the proof is in the pudding that when they compete defensively, they can be very good on that end of the floor.

  2. Rebounding: Carolina was out-rebounded 44-26 on Saturday. It was just the third time in the last 32 seasons, they were out-rebounded by 18 or more, and just the 5th time in the last 52 happens that occurrence has happened. They responded in a big way tonight, led by Armando Bacot’s 10 rebounds, and Brady Manek’s 11. While it isn’t fair to expect 11 rebounds consistently from Manek, he has improved his rebounding since transferring in from Oklahoma.

  3. R.J. Davis Bounces Back: Given the play of Caleb Love and Armando Bacot as of late, we haven’t played close attention to Dadvis’ struggles until Saturday. He responded in a big way tonight, being the second-leading scorer with 15 points, on 7-10. He was more aggressive attacking the basket, as opposed to settling for perimeter shots, and he benefited from doing so. Carolina is going to need him to be a consistent contributor in league play if they want to ascend to the top of the ACC.

  4. Kerwin Walton: If Kerwin Walton returns to form as the team’s best perimeter shooter, and becomes a regular in the rotation, look back tonight as to why. While it is only 6 points, Walton played all 16 minutes in the second half, and that wouldn’t have happened had he not competed defensively. Hubert Davis ran some sets for him to find his shot, and once he made the first one, you could see his confidence build. Walton is still the best shooter on the team, and Carolina is far better with him on the floor, instead of on the bench.

  5. Turnovers: The only negative from tonight’s game was that Carolina did turn the ball over 15 times. That’s too many. Factor in that 6 of them was committed by Caleb Love, and Hubert Davis will have a teaching point in the next film session. Love has improved his assist totals from last season but will need to protect the ball better after the Christmas break.

Up Next: Carolina is off for the next 8 days, and won’t return to action, until they host Virginia Tech for their ACC home opener, on Wednesday, December 29th. The game will start at 7 PM and will air on ESPN2.

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