UNC basketball beats College of Charleston: What we learned

No. 1 North Carolina found itself trailing College of Charleston by seven at halftime and head coach Hubert Davis found himself shedding his positive, reassuring demeanor in the locker room.

Davis told them they were playing soft, but if they responded, the game would change quickly. The Tar Heels accepted the challenge and reeled off 59 points in the second half of their 102-86 victory Friday in a game that the final score disguised just how tough it was.

“There’s a physicality that has to be brought all the time,” Davis said. “…And whether we’re playing College of Charleston, whomever, the type of competitiveness that we brought in the second half is something that has to be brought all the time.”

Charleston (1-1) fielded an experienced team and started three graduate students — including 24-year-old guard Dalton Bolon — and a senior.

Bolon showed early on that the Cougars were not intimidated by Carolina’s ranking or the Dean E. Smith Center crowd that was engaged for an unranked opponent. He scored 14 points in the first half. Sophomore forward Ante Brzovic added 12 points from off the bench as Charleston led the Heels 50-43 at halftime.

Junior guard Caleb Love helped Carolina (2-0) avoid a potential upset with one of the most complete games of his career. Love scored 25 points, with six assists and a career-high nine rebounds. But his defensive effort was just as impressive with two steals and a blocked shot.

North Carolina’s Caleb Love (2) goes to the basket for a dunk to give the Tar Heels a 102-84 lead against College of Charleston in the final seconds of play on Friday, November 11, 2022 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

“I feel like I played a complete game as far as both ends of the floor in the second half,” Love said. “The first half, I got a lot to get better at.”

Here’s what we learned from the Tar Heels’ win:

Offense goes through Bacot

Carolina finally figured out what makes its offense click after playing the first three halves of this season looking fairly unfocused. It actually looked a lot like last year. The Heels play best when they’re playing through senior forward Armando Bacot.

Bacot’s first half looked like a regression to his sophomore season when he was prone to inconsistency. He had one point with just one field-goal attempt and one rebound.

“We called just as many plays in the first half for Armando than we did in the second half,” Davis said. “Armando was fantastic (in the second half). He did his work early. He caught the ball where he wanted to. He outworked whoever defended him to catch the ball as close as he could to the basket. His moves were definitive and strong and he either scored or got fouled.”

He made up for his disappearing act within the first six minutes to start the second half, scoring nine points on 4-for-5 shooting and three rebounds. Bacot finished with 28 points and six rebounds.

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot (5) dunks over College of Charleston’s Jaylon Scott (21) in the second half on Friday, November 11, 2022 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC Bacot lead all scores with 28 points in the Tar Heels’ 102 -86 victory. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

“I got to remember, like coach told me the other day, I’m not a CEO, I’m a high-end janitor,” Bacot said. “I mean, it’s the truth. I’m not the most talented guy, I got to go out there and fight and that’s what I got to hang my hat on.”

The emphasis on feeding Bacot inside allowed Carolina to get into a rhythm. After having just four assists on 15 made baskets in the first half, UNC had 10 assists on its 20 second-half field goals.

“You see how much better it is we just got to get him the ball,” Leaky Black said. “He’s the best player in America right now. We’ve got to get him the ball.”

Rebounding issue

Carolina officially has a rebounding problem after two games. Or at least, it has an area that needs to be emphasized a bit more. UNC Wilmington beyondbounded the Heels 37-32 in the opener on Monday. After the game, coach Takayo Siddle said he thought the Seahawks could be successful because the Heels had a tendency to not always box out hard.

Charleston coach Pat Kelsey might have seen the same thing. The Cougars had a 35-32 rebounding advantage, and that included a 15-8 edge on the offensive boards.

Rebounding is one of the three pillars Davis emphasizes every game along with taking care of the ball and playing well defensively. He pointed out the Heels were No. 1 in the ACC last season in defensive rebounding and were top three nationally before vowing that’s something that “needs to change and will change.”

“That’s something that we pride ourselves on, is limiting our opponents to one shot every possession,” Davis said.

Leaky’s not just for lock downs

There haven’t been many games during Leaky Black’s five seasons at Carolina where he has been asked to be a scorer. But the first half was one of those times UNC needed him.

Black, who’s known for his defensive skills, responded by shooting a perfect 4-for-4 with a pair of 3-pointers in the first half to lead the Heels with 10 points in the first half. He finished the game a point shy of his career-high with 15 points, making his only two shots in the second half.

Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

“I was just trying to stay aggressive, just trying to swing first,” Black said. “We p[reach as a team trying to swing first on the defensive end in everything we do. I took it to my offensive game just trying to swing first. Trying to get the easy ones to go, so I’m not nervous when I get the open shot.”

He was up to his normal lockdown ways defensively, helping hold Bolon to just two points in the second half.

This story was originally published November 11, 2022 9:23 PM.

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C.L. Brown covers the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer. Brown brings more than two decades of reporting experience including stints as the beat writer on Indiana University and the University of Louisville. After a long stay at the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he earned an APSE award, he’s had stops at ESPN.com, The Athletic and even tried his hand at running his own website, clbrownhoops.com.


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