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Heel Tough Blog: UNC-Wilmington Recap

San Antonio Express-News

It wasn’t the dominant performance we all wanted or even expected, but Carolina won their season opener 69-56 over UNC-Wilmington, as the preseason #1 team in the country got all they could handle tonight from a motivated in-state opponent. 3 Tar Heel starters scored in double figures led by the best backcourt in college basketball, as both Caleb Love and R.J. Davis totaled 17 points each. As the score indicates, the offense was hard to come by for both teams, as UNC shot just 46% from the field, and only 20% from behind the three-point, despite only taking 10 attempts. Carolina held the Seahawks to 29% for the entire game, including just 24% in the second stanza. The most surprising stat from tonight’s win was that UNC-W actually outrebounded Carolina 37-32, including 16-7 on the offensive glass. You can imagine that head coach Hubert Davis will remind his team of that following tonight’s contest, and in preparation of Friday’s game.

This was Carolina’s 101st season-opening victory and the Tar Heels’ 21st straight season-opening win inside the Smith Center. You have to give the Seahawks a lot of credit for making Carolina earn everything tonight. UNC-Wilmington enters the season, having won the CAA last year, and they were picked to finish 5th this season. They showed up tonight with nothing to lose, and they played with a physicality you typically don’t see in Dean Dome until the start of ACC play. Despite trailing by 11 at the intermission, and by as much as 16 in the second half, UNC-W just wouldn’t go away, and that was with Shykeim Phillips only shooting 4-13 from the floor, and scoring 11 points.

A lot was made this off-season about the mentality shift that was going to need to take place, as last year, Carolina was hunting their opponents as they played their way into the NCAA Tournament. This season the Heels enter as the #1 team in the country, and the favorite to win the ACC, meaning they’ll have to bring it every time they step on the court. Tonight was a great reminder of that, and you have to like the resolve the team showed, even with the ball not going into the basket often.

This was the first time that Carolina played as the #1 team since November of 2015, and it certainly looked like it at times, but make no mistake Hubert Davis will enjoy the learning experience from tonight, as his team’s journey back to the Final Four is officially underway. Here are some takeaways from tonight’s season-opening win:

  1. Rebounding: Simply put, Carolina is going to have to rebound the basketball better starting on Friday, as outside of Armando Bacot and Leaky Black, UNC didn’t have much of a rebounding presence, and that’s a big reason why they were outrebounded. Bacot lead the team with 9 rebounds, and in the process, passed Brad Daugherty and Mitch Kupchak on the all-time rebounding list, where Bacot is now eighth in UNC history with 1,010 and counting. While Carolina did allow 16 offensive rebounds, they only allowed 14 second-chance points, so they did a good job of staying locked in defensively after not grabbing the initial rebound.

  2. Dynamic Backcourt: Many people believe that Carolina has the best backcourt in college basketball, and tonight both Caleb Love and R.J. Davis showed glimpses of why that belief exists. While Love is trying to be a better distributor of the basketball, his ability to be a three-level scorer is going to be hard to defend. As for R.J. Davis, he’s the engine that makes this team, and when he was aggressive tonight good things happen.

  3. Assists: The Tar Heels only registered 4 total assists, the fewest since they also recorded 4 all the way back in the NCAA Tournament loss to Texas A&M in double overtime in 1980! On the flip side, UNC only allowed baskets on 3 UNC-W assists, the fewest assists allowed since playing Kentucky in 1975. This game was played mainly in the halfcourt, and as UNC learns to play without Brady Manek, and Hubert Davis experiments with different lineups, it only raises the importance that ball movement is at a premium.

  4. Halfcourt Defense: It’s only one game but it’s hard to not be impressed with the way Carolina defended tonight. Holding UNC-Wilmington to only 56 points, 28% shooting from the field, and 25% from behind the three-point line. Leaky Black was his usual self on the perimeter, Pete Nance was a force alongside Armando Bacot on the block, but the most impressive player defensively was Seth Trimble. The reason why Trimble stood out over the summer, was his willingness to play defense. He certainly did that tonight, and his ball pressure is going to be an asset moving forward.

  5. Depth: The theme of the off-season was for the team to be deeper in 2022-23. Hubert Davis played nine guys tonight, and that didn’t include Donovan “Puff” Johnson or freshmen Will Shaver or Jalen Washington. Seth Trimble led the reserves with 15 minutes and scored 4 points off the bench. Additionally, D’Marco Dunn played 13 minutes and allowed Davis to play a four-guard lineup at one point. Tonight didn’t answer the question if the Tar Heels will be deeper this season, but they did take a step in the right direction, and that’s what matters.

Up Next: Carolina is back in action on Friday night as they host the College of Charleston at 7 PM.


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