A career-high 20-point performance from first-year guard Caleb Love gave the North Carolina men’s basketball team (9-5, 4-3 ACC) an 80-73 win over Wake Forest (3-6, 0-6 ACC) on Wednesday night.
Following an improved showing against Florida State last weekend, UNC looked to carry that momentum into its matchup against a struggling Wake Forest team. However, the early minutes of the contest were quite the struggle. By the under-four timeout, both teams were shooting below 40 percent and combined for more turnovers (17) than field goals (15), as the Tar Heels built a narrow 21-20 lead.
Coming out of the timeout, both teams slowly started to construct an offensive rhythm. Love—who entered the game shooting 28 percent from the field— was much more effective, as he paced the Tar Heels with eight points and two assists in the opening half. However, Davien Williamson took over for the Demon Deacons, scoring 14 points to give his team a 33-31 halftime lead.
As the team has done on a number of occasions this season, the Tar Heels opened the second half with much more energy than what was previously shown. After the teams traded baskets to open the half, UNC focused on running the break and feeding the ball inside, jumpstarting a 12-0 run that gave the Tar Heels a 45-35 lead with under 15 minutes to play.
Despite this brief spurt, Wake Forest would not go away quietly. Isaiah Mucius did all he could to keep the game close, drilling four triples in the first ten minutes of the second half. Wake Forest would tie the game, 53-53, but a 5-0 run from UNC would give them the lead at the under-8 timeout.
Over the next several minutes, the Tar Heels finally began to pull away. Love continued to relentlessly attack the rim, while sophomore big man Armando Bacot started to establish himself in the paint. After UNC took control, they never looked back en route to an 80-73 win.
Who stood out?
Despite his struggles up to this point, Love turned in by far his best performance as a Tar Heel. His 20 points were a career-high, and his 7-12 shooting output was his most efficient outing this season. In addition to his scoring, he looked comfortable manning the point guard position, which benefitted other Tar Heels on offense.
Usually, a member of UNC’s deep frontcourt puts on a solid performance, and tonight was Bacot’s turn. The second-year big scored 18 points on an efficient 8-10 shooting and was the Tar Heels’ top-scoring option when the game hung in the balance later on.
For Wake Forest, Williamson and Mucius were the team’s top performers, adding 27 points each.
When was it decided?
Although Wake Forest’s hot shooting kept things close, once UNC ramped up the intensity, the talent gap between the teams became evident. The Tar Heels opened their lead to ten with just over three minutes to play, which ultimately solidified the win.
Why does it matter?
The Tar Heels entered the contest in unfamiliar territory, being dubbed a “bubble” team by a number of national outlets. Although a win against a mostly hapless Wake Forest team does not answer many questions about the team’s ceiling, any win will be beneficial, especially given the upcoming slog of ACC play the Tar Heels will face.
North Carolina’s basketball lineage has been flooded with elite play from point guards, and at least for tonight, Love looked every bit like the projected lottery pick he was supposed to be. If he can continue to play at a high level, it will make the Tar Heels much more dangerous down the stretch.
When do they play next?
UNC will square off against North Carolina State on Saturday, Jan. 23 in the Dean E. Smith Center. Earlier this season, the Tar Heels narrowly fell to the Wolfpack, 79-76, to snap a five-game winning streak in the rivalry.
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