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Monday December 6th

UNC controls its lead in victory against Asheville, but struggles with ball control

UNC sophomore guard Caleb Love (2) looks for a clear pass during UNC men's basketball's 72-53 win against UNC Asheville on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, in the Dean E. Smith Center.
Buy Photos UNC sophomore guard Caleb Love (2) looks for a clear pass during UNC men's basketball's 72-53 win against UNC Asheville on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, in the Dean E. Smith Center.

North Carolina’s men’s basketball got back in the win column in Tuesday’s 72-53 win against UNC Asheville, but the team still showed much room for improvement.

Entering the game, the Tar Heels only led their opponents at the half one time this season: their season opener against Loyola Maryland. UNC never trailed Asheville, leading by as many as 22 at one point.

By the game’s end, the team shot 49 percent from the field and made half of its 3-pointers en route to a 19-point victory. 

Typically, these are indicators of cleanly-played basketball games, but that was not the case for North Carolina on Tuesday.

In their opening possession, the Tar Heels committed a shot clock violation, and the next time down, they threw it away on an errant pass out of bounds. For the remainder of the period, the team seemed to take better care of the ball, finishing the first 20 minutes with six giveaways to eight assists. 

The second half, however, went south for UNC’s ball control.

An assortment of misplayed fast breaks and offensive fouls played into many of the team’s errors, but the full-court trap that the Bulldogs brought out also made it difficult on North Carolina’s guards.

“As the second half came and the score started to extend, I feel like they started to extend the pressure and double a little bit and use their active hands,” sophomore guard Caleb Love said. “We just gotta take away the silly ones. Use ball fakes and we’ll be good.”

As a result of the trapping defense, the Tar Heels finished the game with 18 turnovers and Asheville scored 19 points on those giveaways.

Head coach Hubert Davis felt, though, that these mistakes were avoidable.

“Our turnovers are 100 percent never selfish, they’re just careless,” Davis said.

The team’s usually high-scoring offense – averaging 85.4 points per game before Tuesday – scored 13 points under its mark. The scoring was highlighted by junior forward Armando Bacot’s game-high 22 points, though he was one of just two double-digit scorers for the team, the other being sophomore RJ Davis.

UNC did display its ability to control a game, getting out to an early lead and never looking back. While the early mistakes made it difficult for the Tar Heels to break away from the Bulldogs even further, the team did manage to stay on top from the get-go.

“We gotta get out to an early lead and hold it,” graduate forward Brady Manek said. “We gotta play better for 40 minutes, let alone the start of the game. We gotta play better the entire time.”

A team that previously allowed 83.8 points per game only surrendered 53 to UNC Asheville. After allowing 93 and 89 points over the weekend to Purdue and Tennessee, respectively, the team buckled down more defensively in its return to the Dean Dome.

“There were a lot of frustrated, upset, motivated guys in the locker room, and they responded on the defensive end,” Hubert Davis said. “I thought we were dialed in defensively.”

Asheville’s inability to score minimized the costliness of UNC’s mistakes, but moving forward, it is a problem that must be checked.

The team now averages 13.5 turnovers per game, a number the team must cut back on heading into conference play — or sooner, with a matchup against the No. 20 Michigan Wolverines set for next Wednesday.

To regain its position in the top-25, UNC must begin to consistently deliver strong performances on both sides of the ball. Its previous games have shown its ability to fill up the scoreboard. Tuesday showed its ability to get stops when needed.

Now, it’s a matter of bringing everything together. 

“We played defense tonight and we didn’t really play offense. We gotta play both,” Manek said. “We can’t just pick one. We gotta play both.”

@jerem11ah

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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