For the first time all season long, the Tar Heels went on the road, and came away victorious, as they took down an abysmal Louisville team, 80-59. Armando Bacot was able to play after spraining his ankle on Tuesday at Virginia, and he was one of four Tar Heel starters to score double figures, as he totaled 14 points and 16 rebounds. The other UNC starters to reach double figures included R.J. Davis (12), Caleb Love (10), and Puff Johnson (12) who started in place of the injured Pete Nance. Carolina also got nice contributions off the bench as D’Marco Dunn scored a career-high 14 points, Jalen Washington continued his stellar play off the bench, scoring 6 points, and grabbing 3 rebounds, and both Dontrez Styles and Tyler Nickel added 3 points off the bench apiece.
For the game, Carolina shot 47%, but it was their defense that got the job done, as Louisville shot 37% from the field, and only 7% from behind the three-point line. Carolina also forced 14 Cardinals turnovers and converted them into 23 points. With Bacot back in the lineup, UNC dominated the backboards, 40-31 including 30-21 on the defensive glass, with both teams grabbing 10 offensive rebounds. Louisville led for the better part of the first half, but once Carolina took the lead with under 8 minutes left in the opening stanza, they never looked back, cruising to a much needed win, before an important two game stretch at home next week.
There’s no way to deny that Carolina has underwhelmed for the majority of the season, as they opened up the season as the #1 team in the country, and the heavy favorite to win the ACC. Entering today, UNC was just 11-6 overall, and 3-3 in the ACC. Today’s win over the bottom feeder in the ACC won’t change the local or national perception of this team, but it should instill some confidence in themselves because they now know they can leave the Smith Center, and still win high-level basketball games. Here’s what to take away from today’s win at Louisville:
Bacot Returns: Leading up to the game it wasn’t known if Bacot would be able to play after spraining his ankle on Tuesday. Hubert Davis listed him as questionable yesterday and left the decision up to him. As Bacot has done many times during his UNC career, he toughed it out and was the best player on the floor, recording his 59th career double-double, one behind the record set by Billy Cunningham.
Defense: Carolina’s defense was as good as it’s been on the road all season long, limiting Louisville to 37% shooting, while also forcing 14 turnovers. El Ellis is the only player for Louisville that averages double figures scoring, and today he scored 22 points, but on 6-16 shooting. There was a lineup on the floor at one point that included Love, Davis, Johnson, Washington, and Bacot, and it completely overwhelmed Louisville on the offensive end and allowed Carolina to take control of the game. These types of performances exist for this team when they fully commit to that end of the floor.
Special Teams: Not only did Carolina dominate the glass, but they also outscored Louisville on the fast break 17-2, and outscored their bench 26-10. Now UNC was outscored in the painted area, but the other areas made up for losing that battle. This is what takes to win games on the road, doing the little things, that really are the most important things.
New Starting Lineup Pays Off: In his media availability on Friday, Hubert Davis hinted at the possibility of their being unconventional lineups on the floor in this game. Today’s starting lineup of Davis, Love, Black, Johnson, and Bacot, may not have been unconventional but may be the best 5 on the team overall. Four of the five starts scored in double figures, and Puff Johnson benefited from playing with the starters, scoring 12 points, and grabbing 6 rebounds. That starting group puts more length on the floor and still allows them to switch virtually every screen they encounter. It’s unknown if Pete Nance will return for Tuesday’s game against Boston College, but if he is, Hubert Davis may have to decide if it’s worth starting Nance, as the team has seemingly looked better with him off the floor.
Career Day for Dunn: D’Marco had carved out a role earlier in the season, before breaking a bone in his left hand. Since returning from injury, his coach entrusted him with those same minutes, and today that decision paid off, as he scored a career-high 14 points, and grabbed a career-best 5 rebounds. Dunn provides good perimeter shooting and competes as hard as any guard on the defensive end.
Styles Finally Sees the Floor: Entering the season it was believed that Dontrez Styles would pick up where he left off last season, as he was one of the few reserves that Hubert Davis trusted. For whatever reason, that hasn’t happened as Styles has rarely seen the floor, but today he played 9 minutes and rewarded Hubert Davis with 3 points, and a rebound. Styles has a nice frame and could do so many different things on both ends of the floor. For Carolina to round into championship-caliber form, Styles figures to play a role.
Up Next: Carolina is back in action on Tuesday night when they host Boston College at 7 PM
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