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Heel Tough Blog: Elon Recap

It wasn’t the most impressive of wins last night for Carolina, as they took down Elon 80-63 to secure their fourth straight win, and improve their record to 7-2 overall. It was the first time Carolina had played since last Sunday’s win at Georgia Tech, and they looked like a team that hadn’t played in almost a week. Caleb Love continued his improved level of play, scoring a game-high 22 points, while connecting on 4-7 triples, and threw down a windmill dunk that brought the sparse Smith Center crowd alive. Dawson Garcia added 22 points himself, as he put together his best game since the Purdue loss in Uncasville three weeks ago. For the game, UNC shot just 39%, and made more free throws (27), than field goals (23). Carolina entered the contest among the better three poi t shooting teams in the country but was only 7-23 from bonus territory last night. Defensively, Carolina continued their improved play, holding the Phoenix to 43% shooting, and just 8-29 from behind the arc. With allowing 63 points, it became the first time since the start of the 2012-13 season, that the Tar Heels have allowed 63 points or fewer in four consecutive games.

Last week was a monumental week for Carolina, and for Hubert Davis, as they secured the first signatures wins of his tenure as Carolina’s head coach. Last night wasn’t going to validate anything for the Tar Heels, but they found another way to win when they didn’t play their best, which will be invaluable come ACC play. While Carolina wasn’t shooting lights out from deep, they found other ways to score the basketball, shooting 27-35 from the charity stripe. On the flip side, Elon was just 4-7 from the foul line. So far, the Tar Heels haven’t been known for their rebounding prowess, yet they out-rebounded Elon 48-24, including 15-2 on the offensive glass. Of those 15 offensive rebounds, UNC converted into 17 second-chance points, another example of generating offense.

Carolin is now 5-0 in the Smith Center, continuing the home success from last season, where they lost just one time. This team is still growing, and learning how to play with one another, last night was another example of that, and it is much more enjoyable to learn about your team while winning, instead of losing:

  1. Caleb Love: Dean Smith coined the belief that a player makes their biggest individual jump during their freshman to sophomore season, and the latest example of that is Caleb Love. He has now scored 22 points, four times this season, and has improved his decision-making, and is becoming a better defensive player. He has also realized that most nights, he is the most gifted player on the court, and is becoming more aware of when to take the game over, on both ends. Last night, Love scored his 22 points on an efficient 7-14 from the field, 4-7 from behind the arc, and grabbed 5 rebounds. One thing is clear when Caleb Love plays well, Carolina looks like an ACC title contender, when he doesn’t, UNC looks like a middle-of-the-road team in the ACC.

  2. Defense: It’s mind-blowing how bad Carolina looked defensively before Thanksgiving, and where this team is now on that end of the court. Even though Elon made more field goals than Carolina did, they took away the long ball, as the Phoenix were 8-29. Entering the game, Elon averaged over 10 made triples per game, so holding them below their average was good to see. Anthony Harris saw action once again, and he energized the team immediately. In his 11 minutes, Harris scored 6 points all from the foul line and competed at a high level on the defensive end of the court. For this to be a non-conference game against a bad opponent, Carolina had as many floor burns as they have had in any other game this season. Known for their offensive success, this group is taking pride in becoming a quality defensive team too.

  3. Dawson Garcia: It was almost as if the minute Garcia, realized Bacot and Manek were going to have off nights, he threw on his superman cape, and carried the frontcourt. Garcia’s 22 points, tied with the Love for the game-high, and he did so while going 6-12 from the field, 2-4 from behind the arc, and 8-10 from the foul line. Bacot has been the recipient in the last couple of games, where Hubert Davis drew specific sets for him in the halfcourt, last night it was Garcia, who rewarded his coach for running the offense through him.

  4. Free Throws: In the wins over Michigan and Georgia Tech, Carolina didn’t even attempt double-digit free throw attempts. Last night with a noticeable size difference, and not much resistance on the perimeter, Carolina was in attack mode from the start. They were 27-35 from the foul line, and at one point were 18-19, before Elon even attempted a foul shot. Garcia led the team, converting 8-10 of his opportunities.

  5. Winning in Different Ways: Carolina has seen different styles of play in their 9 games so far, and they had to win in different ways. The one constant had been an efficient offense, and superb shooting from the outside. That didn’t exist last night, as Carolina went 23-59 from the field and 7-23 from behind the arc. That meant they had to adjust, and adjust they did. After shooting 4-15 from behind the three-point line in the first half, Carolina went 3-8 in the second half, as they focused more on getting basketball inside, and living at the foul line. The Tar Heels still scored on 50% of their possessions and averaged 1.081 points per possession. This team has had games at different tempos, with different personnel, in different styles. All of those traits will be invaluable come ACC play, for a team that is improving every time on the court.

Up Next: Carolina has a quick turnaround, as they host Furman on Tuesday night at 7 PM on ESPN2.

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