Thanks to failed offensive rebounds and a lack of both shot accuracy and ball security, the UNC men's basketball team fell to No. 21 Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas, Nev. on Saturday night by a score of 98-69 — its worst loss since 2012.
Junior big man Armando Bacot sank the first points of the night from just inside the circle, but the Tar Heels quickly fell to a five-point deficit. The Tar Heels were unable to get offensive production going and the Wildcats brought their lead up to 18 points in the first half. With a field goal percentage of only 38.5 percent, four Wildcat steals and the inability to draw crucial fouls or make offensive rebounds, UNC was down double-digits for the remainder of the half, pulling to 11 points behind the Wildcats in the last 90 seconds, 40-29.
The Tar Heels pressed to score six early in the second, but the Wildcats pulled the lead up to 18, then 20, then 22 points. Graduate transfer forward Brady Manek drained the team’s first and only 3-pointer of the night at the 12-minute mark. However, UNC’s offensive presence was no match for Kentucky’s tight defense and accurate shooting, and the Wildcats brought their advantage up to 28 points just past the 9-minute mark. With more frantic and disorganized play, the Tar Heels barely mustered any rebounds and couldn’t buy a shot, ultimately losing by a 29-point margin, 98-69.
Who stood out?
Bacot carried a little over 30% percent of the team’s scoring on the night, putting up 22 points, 10 boards and 2 assists. Sophomore guard RJ Davis put 10 more points up on the scoreboard.
UNC’s recent major playmakers, sophomores Caleb Love and Dawson Garcia, did not capitalize off scoring opportunities, only contributing a combined 14 points.
When was it decided?
After UNC went down 18 points in the first half, it was obvious that a comeback would be virtually impossible. With failed ball security, only six offensive rebounds on the night and just one 3-point shot made, North Carolina could not catch up to Kentucky’s pacing, widening the gap to almost 30 points by the buzzer.
Why does it matter?
This game marks UNC’s biggest loss since 2012, which was a 33-point loss against Florida State. This was also the most points allowed by the UNC defense all season, win or loss.
Throughout the contest, UNC showed regression in many of the areas it had previously shown improvement. After making five of 16 3-point attempts against Furman on Tuesday, the Tar Heels made just one of thirteen deep shots for a 7.7 percent mark. They also displayed their rampant penchant for turnovers once again, nearly doubling their mark of seven against the Paladins with 12 against the Wildcats, many at critical moments of the game.
This loss moves UNC to 5-3 in the CBS Sports Classic and 1-3 against the Wildcats in the Classic. Kentucky creeped one game closer to evening their all-time record with the Tar Heels, now sitting just eight losses behind UNC at 25-17. A detrimental loss to another ranked opponent only pushes UNC further from the rankings and will force head coach Hubert Davis to rethink his back court presence with an all-conference schedule looming in the near future.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will be back in the Dean E. Smith Center on Tuesday, Dec. 21 playing Appalachian State at 7 p.m.
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