If Carolina goes on to have a productive season, look back at today’s win over Kentucky as a reason why. While the Wildcats aren't the quality of team Carolina sees, they have young talent and pushed Carolina in Cleveland. The Tar Heels erased an early 11 point deficit in the first half, to take the lead, before trailing 38-34 at the half. In the second half Carolina used an extended 20-6 run to take control of the game. Kerwin Walton came off the bench to hit three, three pointers on his way to a career best 13 points. Overall, the offensive performance wasn’t pretty, but the Heels put 4 players in double figures scoring.
Kentucky out rebounded Carolina, held them to 25% shooting from behind the arc, and just 42% overall. Add in 11 missed free throws, you’d wonder how Carolina won the game. They did it with their defense, as they held Kentucky to 40% shooting from the field, and just 23% from deep. The defensive effort in the second half paved the way for a potentially season defining win:
Kerwin Walton: He’s looked like a freshman many times this season, but today it looked like he belongs on the court at the college level. The 3 made three pointers gave Carolina momentum, and much needed scoring from the perimeter. He was also perfect from the foul line. He may not be a great defender right now, but after today it’s hard to see him not getting more playing time moving forward.
Pounding the Paint: Carolina may have gotten out-rebounded, but they dominated the painted area in this game. At Iowa, Luka Garza got the Tar Heels front court in foul trouble, today Carolina’s platoon of bigs, fouled out the Wildcats front line. Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks combined for 25 points, and 14 rebounds. Day’Ron Sharpe added 7 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, as their size was too much for Kentucky.
Turnovers: The Tar Heels committed just 11 miscues, and that’s a healthy number for this group. On the flip side they forced 16 Kentucky turnovers, which helped get Carolina out in the open floor. Caleb Love didn’t commit a turnover in the first half, as he’s continuing to grow from game to game.
Defense: It’s rare that Carolina is more advanced on the defensive end, but that’s the case for this team right now. Their defense took Kentucky out of rhythm in the second half, and it fueled their offense on the other end. If they continue to stay committed to playing defense, their confidence will grow, as the offense continues to figure it out.
Up Next: ACC play opens up on Tuesday, as Carolina will travel to Raleigh and face off against NC State. The rivalry matchup will tip at 9 on ESPN.