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Monday December 6th

Despite loss, improved guard play helps men's basketball hang close against No. 6 Purdue

Sophomore guard Caleb Love (2) prepares for a free throw during a game  against Brown at the Smith Center on Nov. 12. The Tar Heels defeated Brown 94-87, earning their second win of the season.
Buy Photos Sophomore guard Caleb Love (2) prepares for a free throw during a game against Brown at the Smith Center on Nov. 12. The Tar Heels defeated Brown 94-87, earning their second win of the season.

After committing 17 turnovers on the road against the College of Charleston on Tuesday night, the North Carolina men’s basketball team made the right reads and improved its ball-handling on Saturday, even if it resulted in a 93-84 loss to No. 6 Purdue.

The Tar Heels’ starting backcourt of sophomore guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis had six combined turnovers against the College of Charleston. Against Purdue, they were able to trim that number to just four and both chipped in four assists.

Their decision making and tight ball-handling played a key role in the Tar Heels’ near upset of the Boilermakers. Their assists also came at critical times during the game.

After trailing early in the first half, Davis connected on a pin-point pass to sophomore forward Dawson Garcia, who made a three-pointer to trim Purdue’s lead to three points. After Garcia’s three, Purdue scored four points and looked poised to go on another big run. But Davis again found the open man — this time, sophomore guard Kerwin Walton — for another three-pointer to keep within striking distance of Purdue’s lead. 

Similarly, Love saved his best passes for some of the most important moments of the game. Early in the second half, Love sucked the Boilermakers’ defense into the paint and then found Davis in the corner for an open three-pointer that cut Purdue’s lead to 60-59 with just over 12 minutes left to play. 

“My teammates did a good job of finding me in transition and finding me in offensive sets, and I was able to knock those down,” Davis said. 

The playmaking didn't stop with Love and Davis, though. Graduate transfer Brady Manek contributed two assists from the forward position, including one to Garcia, who made a three to give the Tar Heels their first lead of the night.

“I was excited because I knew it was going to be a fight the whole game, and we got punched in the mouth," Garcia said. "But we came right back and weathered the storm."

Even though four assists each isn’t an eye-popping number, the Tar Heels’ starting backcourt also made good decisions and passes that didn’t appear on the stat sheet.

The development of Love and Davis as facilitators and not just scoring guards was apparent tonight against the Boilermakers. With the Tar Heels’ current roster, this development will play a key role in determining the ceiling of this UNC team.

While almost every player can score on their own, many thrive when someone is creating offense and finding them for open shots. Garcia is one example, as 17 of his game-high 26 points came off an assist.

And although he played limited minutes due to foul trouble and does most of his work down low on the blocks, junior forward Armando Bacot benefitted greatly from guards drawing multiple defenders and being on the receiving end of a lob. 

In addition to making their teammates better and putting them in ideal scoring scenarios, Love and Davis’ development as facilitators and not just scorers will help keep opposing defenses on their toes.

The Tar Heels and their starting backcourt have another opportunity to improve against a tough opponent tomorrow, when they take on No. 17 Tennessee.

“We can be motivated and upset, but we can also be determined to play even better tomorrow,” head coach Hubert Davis said.

@coopermetts 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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