Something felt different Tuesday night.
Maybe it was because it was the third straight ACC win. Maybe it was because it was the sixth win in the last seven games. Or maybe it was because they tied their conference win record from last season by January — but something felt different about the UNC men’s basketball team on Tuesday night.
This big 75-65 win over Pittsburgh begs the question: Is North Carolina basketball back?
Perhaps it’s too early to tell, but it’s not an unfair question. The Tar Heels' victory was a signature win, finally beating a quality conference opponent and putting together two halves of consistent basketball.
Simply put, it was a solid win for UNC. And it did feel different — but here’s a look at what was actually different and what will have fans wondering if UNC basketball is truly back:
Shooting with 'balls'
Tuesday night was a clinic in shooting.
Sure, first-year guard Kerwin Walton once again impressed by sinking 3-pointers, and bigs Day'Ron Sharpe and Garrison Brooks showed off with two flashy dunks, but this time, the numbers might just outshine the flashy plays that will make tomorrow’s highlight reels.
In short, UNC was scoring like crazy, and the numbers prove it. The Tar Heels shot over 60 percent from the field in the second half. But, it’s not just that luck was in their favor. They were shooting with confidence, with skill and, well, with balls, per first-year guard Caleb Love.
The starting guard chalked up his daring decision to go for a 3-pointer with three minutes left in the game and Pittsburgh within five to a favored Joel Berry II quote:
“If you are going to shoot it, have the balls to make it."
‘Love’-ing the ball movement
22 assists and 13 turnovers.
Tuesday night was the fifth consecutive game the Tar Heels recorded more assists than turnovers. Whether this was chemistry or the first-year guards making better in-game decisions, UNC made extensive strides with its ball movement, notching nine assists on 15 made baskets in just the first half.
The Tar Heels finished with 22 assists on 32 made shots — and Love had five of those dimes.
It’s certainly not a stretch to say that the first-year guard has struggled to start the season. But extra time in the gym, hours watching film to fit into the UNC system and a growing confidence stemming from mindfulness have all helped with Love’s improvement running the offense.
“I’m just staying true to my work, staying in the gym, perfecting my craft,” Love said. “It’s showing.”
Use your brain and get the ball to the bigs
Tuesday night, the Tar Heels once again utilized their big men for the victory. There may be no clear-cut “best” player of the team, but an argument could be made for Armando Bacot to take that title. While that debate remains up in the air, one thing is for sure: good things happen when he has the ball.
And that’s a fact the UNC men's basketball team recognized against Pittsburgh, as the Tar Heels gave their bigs a chance to shine. Head coach Roy Williams has even been drilling it into his guards to prioritize getting the ball to Brooks and Bacot.
“I look down here, and Armando is 8-10 and Garrison 8-11,” Williams said. “We got to use our brain. Those guys need to get more shots.”
And they did.
Bacot notched his 15th career double-double and his fourth of the season. A season-high 21 points, 10 rebounds, two dunks and another impressive outing that shows he’s a game changer. Brooks, too, had himself a game with 16 points and six rebounds.
“Last year, we just felt outmatched,” Bacot said. “Teams were actually better than us. This year, from a talent point of view, we can compete with anybody. It’s just about putting it all together.”