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Heel Tough Blog: Tennessee Recap


Tonight was another test for the Tar Heels, as they continue their bounce-back season, and as they did in Atlantis, they passed with flying colors, taking down #10 Tennessee, 100-92 inside the Smith Center. Carolina scored 61 points in the first half, as they built a 24-point lead, before they held off a ferocious rally led by Dalton Knecht, to earn the first home non-conference win against a top-10 team since Carolina beat #4 Gonzaga back in 2018. The Tar Heels had three starters score 20 points or more, led by R.J. Davis’s team-best 27 points, on 8-17 shooting, including 5-11 from behind the arc. Armando Bacot added 22 points, on 6-8 shooting, he also grabbed 11 rebounds, to record his 71st double-double. Lastly, Harrison Ingram added 20 points, on 6-12 shooting, and he was 4-8 from behind the three-point line. For the game, Carolina shot 46% from the field, but they shot 48% from behind the arc. More importantly, Carolina was an efficient 32-38 from the foul line, scoring early and often with the clock stopped, which helped them open up Tennessee’s defense.

Dalton Knecht was sensational for the Vols, as he scored 37 points before he exited the game with an ankle injury. Those 37 points tied a record by a visitor in the history of the Smith Center, as he willed his team back into the game. His 37-point performance makes it the third straight game, Carolina has allowed a player to score 30 points or more, and UNC is very lucky to be 2-1 in those games. This has been billed as the best offensive team that Rick Barnes has had while in Knoxville, and they certainly looked the part, scoring those 92 points, on 56% shooting.

This was the first big home game for newcomers like Harrison Ingram, Cormac Ryan, and Elliot Cadeau, as the ACC/SEC Challenge, replaced the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. Carolina was challenged last week in Atlantis, as they secured their first marquee win of the season, taking down then #20 Arkansas. Tonight, you could argue was the best performance we’ve seen by a Hubert Davis coached team in the regular season, and in the process, displayed the type of team this group can be in 2023-24:

  1. Davis/Bacot/Ingram Power UNC: Once Harrison Ingram transferred into the program, he joined R.J. Davis and Armando Bacot as the best players on the team, and tonight that trio combined for 69 of the 100 points. While they don’t do it the same way that Coby White, Cam Johnson, and Luke Maye did for UNC in 2018-19, it is the first time since then Carolina has a trio of weapons on the offensive end of the floor, and tonight they excelled against the best defense in all of college basketball. This game was seen as a bounce-back game for Bacot, who averaged just 9 points in the Bahamas, and he responded to the challenge, with a 22-point, 11 rebound, double-double, extending his school record of double-doubles to 71.

  2. Elliot Cadeau: The freshman point guard started once again, (even though Cormac Ryan came off the bench), and he controlled the game tonight like a veteran guard. Cadeau recorded his first double-digit assist game, as he totaled 5 points, and 10 assists, with 0 turnovers. His passing has long been compared to Kendall Marshall’s, and you saw that on display multiple times tonight, including a pitch-ahead pass to Bacot for a dunk. It’s unknown if Cadeau will continue to start as Ryan works himself back from injury, but he’s going to be on the floor when it matters the most.

  3. Dalton Knecht: Who knows how the game ultimately work itself out if Knecht hadn’t left with an ankle injury, but the Northern Colorado transfer may have been the best player on the floor tonight, as he scored 37 points. Those 37 points tie a record by a visitor in the Smith Center after Lionel Simmons scored 37 points for La Salle back in 1988. At one point he scored 18 of 27 points in the second half, as Carolina had no answers for him. This is the third straight game Carolina has allowed an opponent to produce a 30-point scorer, something that will need to be cleaned up ahead of Saturday’s ACC opener.

  4. Assists: Carolina assisted on 19 of their 28 made baskets, headlined by the 10 assists from Elliot Cadeau. The ball movement was impeccable in the first half, as Carolina assisted on 13 of their 19 made baskets, as they carved up the #1 ranked defense from the onset.

  5. Free Throws: The Tar Heels spent plenty of time at the foul line in the Bahamas, and that continued, with Carolina going 32-38 from the charity stripe. What was different from the Bahamas, was that they didn’t put the opponent at the foul line nearly as frequently, with the Vols going 13-16. That means that Carolina made 16 more free throws than Tenneseee attempted, another difference-maker for UNC. It also helped Carolina not make a field goal in the final 6:56 of the game, but Carolina went 13-16 from the foul line to put the game away.

  6. Biscuits: For the first time in 2023-24, the Tar Heels scored at least 100 points, which means a biscuit special at your local Bojangles. Entering tonight’s game, Tennessee was allowing just 61.5 points per game, which was the 25th-best in all of college basketball. Carolina scored 61 points in the first half, as they built a 61-39 lead. Also entering tonight’s contest, Tennessee’s defensive rating according to KenPom was 87.5 which was the best in the country, and Carolina scored 100 points, even though Tennessee hadn’t allowed a team to score more than 71 points prior to tonight.

Up Next: Carolina’s ACC opener is on Saturday when they host Florida State at 2 PM in the Dean Dome.

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