It wasn’t easy, but Carolina won their fourth straight game, after dispatching Michigan, 80-76 earlier tonight in the inaugural Jumpman Invitational. This was Carolina’s last game before the Christmas holiday, and like many teams around the country, they were seeking to avoid a letdown before going home to see their families for a couple of days. Armando Bacot was the best player on the floor tonight, as he scored a game-high 26 points, on 11-15 shooting, as Michigan had no answer for him from the opening tip. R.J. Davis added 19 points on 6-15 shooting from the field, and Caleb Love also scored 18, as Carolina’s stars were at their best for the second straight game. They shot an even 50% from the field, despite only shooting 7-20 from behind the three-point line. Defensively they held the Wolverines to 42% shooting from the field, and even though they connected on nine three-pointers, it wasn’t enough to overcome Carolina’s inside-out attack.
This game changed after players on both sides received technical fouls in the later parts of the first half. There was a sequence earlier in the game, where Armando Bacot turned, and scored over Hunter Dickinson, and in the process, received an elbow to the mouth. A few possessions later on a Caleb Love drive, Love was fouled hard, which resulted in him on the floor. After committing the foul, Dickinson stood over Love, and chaos ensued. After going to a TV timeout, technical fouls were assessed to Bacot, Love of UNC, Dickinson, and Dug McDaniel from Michigan. For the second straight game, a Big 10 opponent tried to out-muscle the Tar Heels, and for the second straight time, they learned the hard way that this team has some fight in them.
Tonight wouldn’t have made or lost the season for UNC, but a win would’ve been deflating after that emotional comeback against Ohio State over the weekend. With the win, Carolina now enters the Christmas break with a respectable 9-4 record, and it appears that they are closer to playing to the potential of a national title type of team.
Toughness: For many years now Carolina has been labeled as a “soft” program despite all the success the program has achieved. If there’s one thing that we’ve learned about Hubert Davis is that he wants his team to be tougher than the opponent. In the last two games, it was evident that they thought they could play with a level of physicality that they believed UNC couldn’t match, and in both games, Carolina drew a line in the sand, and exceeded their level of physicality, in winning both games. If Carolina can start to mold back into the type of team we saw last March, which was a tough, physical basketball team, that’ll only help their trajectory for the rest of the season.
Points in the Paint: One of the keys to entering the game was winning the painted area and behind the play of Armando Bacot, they did just outsourcing Michigan 40-30 in the painted area. Carolina’s best offense still comes after they get into the lane either with the drive, or a post feed, and tonight, they overpowered an opponent more than capable of holding its own against the Heels.
Fast Break Points: Another area in which Carolina excelled tonight was scoring in the open court, as they scored 19 points on the fastbreak tonight, compared to just 9 for the Wolverines. Those easy points were one of the biggest reasons Carolina erased an early deficit, and built a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in the second half.
Free Throws: Had Carolina lost, one of the talking points would’ve been the missed free throws, as they were 15-27. Caleb Love was 5-7, Armando Bacot was 4-7, but every starter that attempted multiple foul shots missed at least one. This hasn’t been a major issue during the season so far, but it is something to monitor, moving forward.
Up Next: The Heels are off all the way until the last Friday of the season when they’ll travel to Pittsburgh as ACC play will enter full throttle the rest of the season.