In the final exhibition before the start of the regular season, the Tar Heels made quick work of Division II St. Augustine’s on their way to a comfortable 117-53 win in the Smith Center. By the time the game hit the first media timeout, Carolina had built a double-digit lead, and never looked back, as they built a 65-26 lead at the half. Four starters scored in double figures, led by R.J. Davis, who scored a game-high 22 points, on 8-14 shooting. Additionally, Harrison Ingram (16), Armando Bacot (13), and Cormac Ryan (10), all reached the double-digit plateau. Three bench players totaled double figures, led by Jalen Washington, and his 14 points. Zayden High (10), and Creighton Lebo (11), rounded out the double-digit scorers for Carolina.
The Tar Heels offense was efficient from the field, as they shot 55%, on 43 made baskets. The perimeter shooting looked better in tonight’s exhibition than it did in the Live Action scrimmage, as Carolina was 16-35 (46%), from behind the arc. As impressive as Carolina was on offense, their defense was active, and forced the Falcons into many contested shots, resulting in a 27% shooting night. That led to Carolina owning the glass, as they won the battle of the boards 62-25.
With the Falcons hailing from the CIAA in the Division II ranks, the result was as expected, but after an off-season of talk, it was time to see what the team would actually look like. Carolina will open the season in just over a week, against a much better opponent, but tonight was a good starting point, as the program looks to bounce back after a down 2022-23 season. Here is what to take away from the exhibition route:
Starting Lineup: It was somewhat unknown what Carolina’s starters were going to be entering the season, and Hubert Davis opted for a lineup that featured R.J. Davis, Cormac Ryan, Paxon Wojcik, Harrison Ingram, and Armando Bacot. When Hubert Davis was hired, he envisioned a point in time where he would play with three guards, and it appears that Carolina has arrived at that point. This lineup allows for better floor spacing, with three ball handlers, creating more driving lanes, and more open shots. The unit also provides versatility on the defensive end of the court, making it hard to see Davis going with a different starting lineup once the regular season gets started.
R.J. Davis: A day after not being named to any preseason All-ACC teams, Davis treated tonight like an important conference game, as he scored 20 points in the first half, and he hit 5 three-pointers. Everyone was anxious to see how he’d look on the court without Caleb Love, and if tonight was any indication, he looks, comfortable, and confident.
More Efficient Offense: Carolina’s offense looked better tonight than it did at any point in the preseason last year. The return of the secondary break, combined with an emphasis on playing in the open floor, created more transition opportunities, which they converted into 25 fast break points. That wasn’t visible on the court last season, and the return to that style of play is very much welcomed by this writer, and the fan base in general.
Elliot Cadeau: The reclassified freshman point guard has been hyped up all preseason long, and you saw glimpses of why that is the case. Cadeau scored 7 points and handed out 4 assists in his 22 minutes. His passing ability was on display, and his energy was contagious on the defensive end of the floor. Cadeau may not start for Carolina, but he will impact the game on a consistent basis.
Harrison Ingram: While Elliot Cadeau was the most hyped-up freshman, Harrison Ingram has received the most praise of any transfer, as Hubert Davis has glowed about him, whenever talking about him publicly. Tonight we saw why. Ingram scored 16 points, grabbed 9 rebounds, and even handed out 3 assists in his 25 minutes. Carolina has been lacking a difference maker on the wing since Cameron Johnson, and they may have found what they were looking for in the Stanford transfer. He seemed comfortable playing the “4” spot, which will allow Davis to play his desired three-guard lineup more often.
Assists: After finishing second to last in the ACC last season in assisted field goals, better ball movement has been a talking point all summer long. Of Carolina’s 43 made baskets, 23 were assisted on, which works itself out to 53% of the made baskets being assisted on. Bacot and Cadeau led the way with 4 assists each, as seven different Tar Heels totaled at least 2 assists.
Up Next: The Tar Heels will now turn their focus to the regular season, as they open the 2023-24 campaign on November 6th, when they host Radford. The game is set to tip at 7 PM on the ACC Network.