The North Carolina men's basketball team managed to get back in the win column with its 78-68 win over Virginia Tech Monday night, but like many games this season, it initially struggled to create a reliable cadence on offense.
Although the team managed to score points in spurts, it did not establish the flow kept in previous wins.
The team got off to a promising start after junior center Armando Bacot made his first six shots, but slowed down for the rest of the game. It took a while for the rest of the offense to get into any kind of rhythm in the first half, as the team managed just 37 points by halftime.
The lack of transition offense prevented the Tar Heels from running the break and scoring easy baskets inside, as the team finished with just six fastbreak points.
“We were just relying on halfcourt offense,” Bacot said. “I think Carolina from the past all the way up to now has been successful getting to the secondary offense.”
Playing through Bacot has proved successful this season when he delivers a dominant performance, most notably demonstrated during the back-to-back 29-point efforts against Virginia and Georgia Tech. In the games since, teams became more physical inside, which disrupted the mojo of the Tar Heels' gameplan.
This trend has continued in UNC’s last three games. Although Bacot continued to register double-doubles, his overall numbers declined and the team lost twice.
On the road against Miami, the team scored a season-low 57 points. In Winston-Salem, the team surrendered an untimely run in the second half and could not overcome the deficit on the other end.
Head coach Hubert Davis said the trend stems from the team’s stagnant response to defenses, as the previous two games did not feature enough ball movement.
“Last week, I felt like we were dribbling a lot,” Davis said. “There was a lot of one-on-one, a lot of ball screens. There was no movement, there was no spacing, there was no balance out there on the offensive end.”
Davis, though, believes Bacot’s hot start on Monday served as a catalyst for the Tar Heel victory. Though the team did not always convert, he was also pleased with the 16 boards on the offensive glass.
“We want to dominate points in the paint through post, penetration and offensive rebounds,” Davis said.
UNC ultimately pulled away once graduate forward Brady Manek made a series of timely three-pointers and a powerful follow-up jam in the waning minutes of the second half. Though he did not offer much scoring initially, his teammates provided him with open looks late.
“Not doing much for anybody for the first 30 minutes, but (I) came out and played well those last few minutes and everybody got me going,” Manek said.
Sophomore guard Caleb Love also helped the team re-establish its rhythm, recording a game-high 22 points to go along with three makes from downtown of his own. On top of that, he finished with five assists and helped the team get back into an efficient half-court offense.
Davis credited Love and sophomore guard RJ Davis on their work penetrating the lane and creating open looks for others.
“We started running sets where we had a lot of movement, and it just gave us an opportunity to drive,” Davis said. “And when we drove, we made the right play finding guys out on the perimeter shooting threes.
Another thing that helped North Carolina was its advantage at the free-throw line. The team made 22 of its 26 attempts from the charity stripe, providing easy offense in crucial moments. Nineteen of those attempts came in the second half, as the team’s aggressiveness picked up.
That, in combination with Manek’s hot hand, made life easier for the Tar Heels.
“I feel like we were missing some easy ones early and guys started getting down, but as soon as the refs started calling the fouls, it was kind of encouraging,” senior wing Leaky Black said.
UNC advances to 10-0 at home, where it will play its next two games. Moving forward into conference play — where the Tar Heels stand in sixth place — the offensive tactics the team employed late on Monday must become routine, both in and out of Dean Dome.
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