ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The No. 14 North Carolina men’s basketball team (2-0) defeated UNLV (0-2), 78-51, in the first round of the Maui Invitational, despite a sloppy first half.
UNC struggled to get going in the game’s opening minutes. After going 0-8 from the field in the opening five minutes, the Tar Heels trailed 13-0. UNC finally found its way onto the scoreboard by way of a 3-pointer from senior guard Andrew Platek at the top of the key. The Tar Heels continued to look sloppy throughout the first 10 minutes, holding a 18-9 deficit at the 10 minute mark with 20 percent field goal shooting and four turnovers.
A 9-0 UNC run tightened the game, making it 18-15 midway through the first half. The Tar Heels finally tied things up with six minutes to go in the first half after an And-1 for Garrison Brooks. The Runnin’ Rebels sprinted out to another lead immediately after, taking another multi-possession lead before a 3-pointer from junior guard Leaky Black tied the game at 27 with under four minutes remaining in the opening frame.
UNC took its first lead of the game in the final minutes of the half at 29-27, and the Tar Heels offense finally started to click. A solid run in the final three minutes of the half led North Carolina to a narrow 37-30 lead into the break.
The Tar Heels came out firing in the second half, quickly spreading their lead to double digits for the first time on the night a little over two minutes into the half. A pair of free throws from first-year guard RJ Davis made it 41-30, UNC. North Carolina continued its dominance to start the half, taking a 50-31 lead with 15 minutes left to play for the biggest lead of the night for either team.
Three Tar Heels entered double-digit scoring early in the second half with Platek, Davis and Brooks all exceeding the line in the opening minutes of the half. UNC’s dominance continued, and with eight minutes to go in the game the Tar Heels had built a dominant 65-39 lead.
After falling into an ugly 13-0 hole early, the Tar Heels finished the game on an uninterrupted run of dominance starting late in the first half. UNC finished the game with a 27-point, 78-51 victory to advance to the semifinal.
Who stood out?
North Carolina’s attack was extremely balanced, with four players reaching double figures, but Brooks was particularly impressive. The senior finished as UNC’s second leading scorer with 14 points and was a force on the boards with three offensive and four defensive rebounds.
With first-year big Day’Ron Sharpe notching just a single point off the bench, Brooks led the Tar Heels’ effort in the paint against an overmatched and undersized UNLV side.
When was it decided?
A series of UNC runs late in the second half showed signs of North Carolina’s eventual blowout victory. The Tar Heels outscored the Runnin’ Rebels 41-21 in the second half, and after taking a seven-point lead into the locker room, the game was never close.
Why does it matter?
UNC’s balanced scoring could signal good things to come, as the Tar Heels lack of depth and multidimensional scoring was a key aspect in falling to a losing record for the first time in nearly two decades last season.
Still, with North Carolina’s first real test likely to come tomorrow against Alabama or Stanford, the Tar Heels will need to display the efficiency they showed in the last 45 minutes of the game rather than the first 15.
When do they play next?
UNC will play in Asheville again tomorrow for the semifinal of the Maui Invitational against either Alabama or Stanford at 4:30 p.m.
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