Like it hasn’t been all season long, it wasn’t easy today for the Tar Heels as they got past a pesky Portland 89-81 in their opening game of the Phil Knight Invitational. All 5 starters for UNC scored in double figures, led by Pete Nance who had a Tar Heel best, 28 points on 8-13 shooting, including knocking in 5 three-pointers. Caleb Love added 23 points, while R.J. Davis added 13, with Armando Bacot and Leaky Black both contributing 11 each. For the game, Carolina shot 53% from the field, and 50% from behind the arc, and they needed every basket, as the Pilot’s offense was in attack mode all game long. Portland shot 48% from the floor, and made 12 three-pointers, on 32 attempts. Moses Wood led them in scoring with 21 points, while Tyler Robertson added 13, and Alden Applewhite contributed 14.
Portland started the second half on a 15-6 run and built a 53-46 lead at the under-16 timeout in the second half, but as Carolina has done all season long, they didn’t flinch, and they stayed the course. Nance would score 20 of his 28 points in the second stanza, and displayed a level of toughness we haven’t yet seen from him in a Tar Heel uniform.
This was believed to be UNC’s easiest game of the event, and there they were getting pushed to the brink in the opening round. Even at 5-0, it has become very evident that this team hasn’t adjusted well to playing with the burden of #1 all too well. Carolina lacked energy on both ends of the floor and looked lethargic deep into the second half. Hubert Davis said during his halftime interview that something needed to change, but like last year that message fell on deaf ears even with the UNC victory.
Defense: Carolina’s defense got carved up like a turkey today, as Portland’s action was too much for UNC to handle. The Pilot’s screening was one that reminded you of an NBA team, and it freed up Portland shooters, open behind the arc. Hubert Davis went to his bench to try and match up better, and that didn’t work. Portland shot 48% from the field, and 38% from behind, both well above their season averages entering today’s game. In the closing minutes, UNC held Portland to 1-8 shooting, and that’s the main reason why they avoided the upset.
Half-Court Offense: This is the best Carolina’s offense has looked in the half-court this season, and the main reason why, was in large part due to Caleb Love and Pete Nance, who carried UNC to the win today. In the first half, Love scored 16 points, on 7-9 shooting, and knocked in both of his three-pointers. In the second half, it was Nance who powered the Tar Heel offensive attack, scoring 20 of his 28 points. Their spacing was arguably the best it has been and combined with Carolina’s guards being able to get downhill, it was too much for Portland to defend for 40 minutes.
Rebounding: The rebounding effort we saw in the win over James Madison carried over today, as UNC won the battle of the boards, 39-23, as Bacot grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
Free Throws: Had Carolina lose today’s game, it would’ve been in large part due to them going only 16-26 from the foul line. It was nice to see Carolina in attack mode, but you have to make them pay for it.
Bench Scoring: Hubert Davis said all summer long he wanted to develop more depth, and through 5 games, despite his attempts, he hasn’t found much luck. Portland’s bench outscored UNC’s bench 25-3, despite Davis playing 5 players off the bench. D’Marco Dunn played the most minutes (11) and scored the only bucket, a three-pointer. Davis knows how important it is to develop depth, but at this point, it’s hard to trust they’ll be able to develop more depth than what they had last season.
Up Next: UNC will play the winner of Iowa State/Villanova at either 3 PM or 5:30 PM tomorrow on ESPN or ESPNU.