Tonight in a raucous Smith Center, Carolina used a second-half surge to dismantle #24 Michigan, 72-51 to earn the first signature win of the Hubert Davis Era. The Tar Heels only led 29-37 at the half, as both teams struggled to put the ball in the basket in the first half. In the second half, the stingy defense continued for UNC, as they held the Wolverines to just 33% shooting, as they outscored them 43-24, to win the game comfortably. Carolina was paced by Caleb Love who scored a game-high 22 points, and fed off the energy in Dean Dome, as he connected on four triples, and had a couple of thunderous dunks that got the crowd even more into the game. Other players in double figures scoring were Armando Bacot, who had 11 points, and Dawson Garcia who contributed 14 points. For the game, Carolina shot 46%, and continued their sharp shooting from behind the arc, connecting on 8-19 three-point attempts. After being out-rebounded in the first half, UNC came back to win the battle of the boards 38-35, as Bacot grabbed a game's best 14 rebounds. Despite just attempting 3 foul shots, the Tar Heels had a season-low six turnovers, while forcing 13 Michigan miscues.
There aren’t many “must-win” games in December of the college basketball season, but tonight was important for a young team, playing for a first-time head coach. After over a week off, Carolina needed to come out, and now only win, but look good doing so. While Hubert Davis would never publicly say that he needed a win like the one he got it, now that he has it, this is something the team and him as a coach can build off of.
Tonight was the first time Carolina secured a win in the annual ACC/Big 10 Challenge, ironically the last time they won came against Michigan in the Smith Center. Here’s how they got it done:
Defense: After a passive-aggressive start to the season defensively, Carolina competed at a high level defensively tonight, and was able to wear down the Michigan offense. The Tar Heels held Michigan to 35% shooting for the game, and just 31% from behind the arc. The Wolverines entered the game as one of the better shooting teams from inside the arc, and Carolina limited them to just 13-36 on such attempts. Hubert Davis has said repeatedly that he believes this team can be great on the defensive end, tonight we saw that.
Caleb Love: You could argue that Love had his best game as a Tar Heel, which didn’t come against Duke, as the sophomore guard scored 22 points on 9-16 shooting, including making four three-pointers. Add in his dunks, and this was the first time he was able to experience a vibrant Smith Center, and it’s safe to say he enjoyed it. He also added four rebounds, and four assists, for a complete performance.
Crowd: There isn’t anything better in college basketball than a big game atmosphere in the Dean Dome. Tonight was the first time since 2019 that UNC hosted a marquee home game, with no restrictions on fans, and it showed. Add in the appearances of former Tar Heels like Tyler Hansbrough, Antawn Jamison, Phil Ford, Tyler Zeller, etc it’s safe to say there was some nostalgia in the building as well.
Turnovers: As pleased as we feel about the defense, you have to feel equally as pleased with the way they protected the ball. Carolina committed just 6 turnovers, easily the fewest of the season. Not only did they protect the ball, but they also forced 13 Michigan turnovers, and converted them into 13 points.
Front-Court Play: Whichever team’s frontcourt played better was most likely going to win, and it proved to be true, as Armando Bacot’s double-double powered UNC tonight. Carolina also got Hunter Dickinson into foul trouble, which proved to be costly for Michigan, as UNC pulled away during the second half. Add in that Carolina won the rebounding battle, outscored Michigan in the paint, and had more blocks, it’s easy to see why we were so ecstatic about this group entering the season.
Up Next: UNC heads on the road for their ACC game, as they’ll travel to Atlanta to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at 3 PM on ESPN.