In a year of firsts, the North Carolina men's basketball team turned to Twitter in hopes of finding an opponent to fill its depleted home schedule after its contest with Virginia Tech was postponed. Northeastern answered the call and endured an 82-62 dominant win by the Tar Heels.
The game against the Huskies on Wednesday night was only UNC's seventh home game this season. Entering the game, UNC had the lowest percentage of home games of any Division I team in the country.
"When I was in Little League, if we had 15 games, I wanted to play 15, if one got rained out I wanted it to be rescheduled. When I was a high school coach, we had 20 regular season games, if one got snowed out I wanted it to be rescheduled," head coach Roy Williams said. "So, that's what we were trying to do is just get some more games and get some more home games."
The unprecedented matchup was accompanied by the return of national champion Tyler Hansbrough to the UNC basketball conversation, with his commentating debut on the ACC Network. The former Tar Heel reflected on his time in Chapel Hill, from Franklin Street haircuts to playing in Williams' unique two-big offense.
Despite all the firsts and unique circumstances surrounding the game, at times it felt flat. Yes, it was an impressive margin of victory. And yes, it was first-year Walker Kessler's breakout performance that people have been anticipating since the 7-foot-1 center committed to UNC. But it was not the 100-point, biscuit-bringing defeat or the break-away dunk exhibition that Tar Heel fans have come to expect against mid-major out-of-conference opponents before the last two seasons.
But the flashes of potential were there. The Kessler steal and run-out dunk. The high-low first-year to first-year pass that resulted in a Day'Ron Sharpe dunk in the first half. The nine assists by first-year guard Caleb Love, a season-high for any Tar Heel, were reminiscent of old UNC basketball and a sign of the rhythm UNC is establishing for itself.
That rhythm may be the most important thing for North Carolina, considering that the team has struggled to find a consistent schedule all season due to COVID-19 postponements and cancellations.
"I think this game really helped us just get in a flow and getting our chemistry better and getting us in a good rhythm, showing us stuff we've got to work on defense and offense," first-year Kerwin Walton said. "I think it's going to be really good for us down the road, and I'm just excited to play the next one."
The Tar Heels also found some scoring balance, with six players scoring nine or more points on the night. This included effective scoring off the bench with Kessler and Sharpe both posting double-digits and senior guard Andrew Platek tacking on another nine points.
But still, the Tar Heels had evidence of their early struggles. They allowed Tyson Walker to put up 27 points, 21 of which came in the first half. They struggled to shut down the perimeter, allowing Coleman Stucke to knock down three 3-pointers in quick succession in the second half after the defense finally found an answer to Walker.
But when it's all said and done, UNC was out there, on the floor, playing basketball and gaining a necessary win as the Tar Heels straddle the line of NCAA Tournament qualification.
At the end of the night, the Tar Heels are just happy to get in a game. Especially with the news that their away contest against Boston College was postponed earlier on Wednesday.
"I think it was good for us to get this game in. We had games getting canceled left and right so just getting this game was good for us to get our flow going and just practicing is tough on our bodies," Love said. "So, just getting games in and playing a different opponent than ourselves is good for us."