Somehow the start of the college basketball season is just a week away, and on Friday night, Carolina hosted Johnson C. Smith in an exhibition, as Carolina made light work out of the small in-state school, winning 101-40. As much as Hubert Davis has expressed since being hired roughly 18 months ago that he has to do this job his own way, taking care of the smaller schools from the Tar Heel state is a nice tribute to his mentor Roy Williams, who always went out of his way to take care of the smaller schools close to home. Carolina was without R.J Davis, although if this were a regular-season game, he would’ve played, additionally, Puff Johnson, Jalen Washington, and Justin McKoy. Despite those absences, the Tar Heels had little trouble, as they were paced by Caleb Love’s 20 points, as Armando Bacot, and Northwestern transfer Pete Nance were the other starters to score in double figures. For the game, Carolina shot 50% from the field, while only converting on 11-35 three-point attempts. As you could imagine, Carolina dominated the glass, outrebounding Johnson C. Smith, 63-26, as Bacot was in midseason form, grabbing a game-high 20 rebounds. They also outscored the opponent 21-0 on second-chance opportunities and scored 16 points off of 10 forced turnovers. Given the size and talent discrepancy, it’s not really a question with the game being so lopsided.
During last season, Hubert Davis’ message to his team was to ignore the outside noise, amidst the struggles early in the season. This year the message is the same, but with a twist as everyone is patting the Tar Heels on their back after the run to the national championship game. One of the questions that this team faces is how they handle going from being the hunter, to the hunted, and while every opponent they’ll play in the regular season is far superior to Johnson C. Smith, Friday was as good an indication that this team is ready to prove that last March wasn’t a fluke. That’s good news as in the last couple of weeks, Carolina was voted the preseason AP #1 team, and was picked to win the ACC for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign.
There was nothing Carolina was going to do on Friday night to change your opinion of the team as they prepare for the start of the season, but with four rotation players not dressing out, it did allow for some other guys to get some run, and display why they can be an integral part of the team’s success this season. Here are a few takeaways from Friday’s exhibition rout:
Nance Makes UNC Debut: The Tar Heels are returning four starts from last season, but the one guy they have to replace is Brady Manek, one of the heroes from the NCAA Tournament run. To address the departure of the Oklahoma transfer, Hubert Davis went back to the transfer portal and brought in veteran Pete Nance, who played four seasons at Northwestern. Friday was the first time we got to see Nance in game action in Carolina Blue, and he scored 19 points on 8-13 shooting and grabbed 6 rebounds in 19 minutes. His production looked different from Manek’s, as he was 1-5 from behind the arc, but he gives Carolina another scorer on the block and another presence on the backboards. While he didn’t record an assist, Nance is a good passer for his size, and you can expect Hubert Davis to use him as such in his 4-around-1 offense.
Love & Bacot Steady the Offense: No R.J. Davis, no problem as Caleb Love and Armando Bacot steadied the team on both ends of the floor. Love scored his 20 points on 7-14 shooting while connecting on 4-9 triples. He also handed out 8 assists and displayed a level of playmaking we haven’t seen from him at UNC. As for Bacot, he totaled 12 points on 6-9 shooting, while bringing in 20 rebounds. For players who can only improve by putting up these types of numbers on a consistent, Friday showed they are locked in, for what they are hoping is a national title run.
A Sophomore Starts: With Davis not dressing out, Hubert opted to start D’marco Dunn, even though Dunn wasn’t used much during the latter parts of last season. Dunn scored 9 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, in 23 minutes, and as you could imagine, just looked more comfortable on the floor. As Carolina hopes to be deeper this season, Dunn could play a big part in that, as he figures to be the first option off the bench to run Carolina’s offense when either Love or Davis is on the bench.
The Freshmen: The Tar Heels have four freshmen joining the team, although only three players on Friday (Seth Trimble, Tyler Nickel, and Will Shaver), they all displayed something in their own right. Trimble showed why there is so much talk around him entering the season, as he scored 11 points on 5-6, and threw down a monstrous dunk his older brother, and UNC starter J.P. Tokoto would’ve been proud of. Trimble wasn’t afraid to apply pressure on the ball in the backcourt, and his aggressiveness and athleticism will be tough to keep off the floor. Tyler Nickel shot the ball like you would expect the all-time leading scorer from the state of Virginia to do so, as he scored 9 points, on 2-5 shooting. All of his shots were from behind the arc, and that might be something Hubert Davis looks for off the bench, as that was one advantage Kansas had in the final. Will Shaver may have only scored 2 points and grabbed 3 rebounds, but you can see why the staff is excited about his potential. Shaver figures to be the first option off the bench to replace either Bacot or Nance, as Jalen Washington continues to work himself back from a serious knee injury.
Up Next: The next time Carolina steps on the floor at the Smith Center, it will count as they will host UNC-Wilmington on November 7th at 9 PM on the ACC Network.
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