Games are a tale of two halves, but during the North Carolina men’s basketball team’s match against Marquette at the NCAA Tournament opener, it was really a tale of two players.
The Tar Heels defeated the Golden Eagles, 95-63, which left the losing team unable to answer for sophomore guard Caleb Love and graduate forward Brady Manek.
Both players were scoring machines — each topping their respective season highs in points. Love finished the night with 23, while Manek poured in a team-high of 28.
They also played a significant part in breaking the school single-game tournament record for most threes, as the duo combined for 11.
For Love, most of his production came in the first half when he exploded for 21 points and shot 6-11 from three. This was a drastic improvement from the poor shooting he displayed in the last game against Virginia Tech, when he only shot 2-10 from beyond the arc.
The game plan was the same from that loss — but the execution was simply that much better.
“We get in the lane, and we kick it out for open threes,” Love said. “We got a lot of guys that can shoot, so you know — we penetrate the defense, we kick it out and we knock it down.”
It was notable that Love’s confidence also didn’t falter from the previous outing, considering his fearlessness to shoot from deep.
“When you shoot your first one and it goes in, you kind of get a feel for it,” Love said. “You keep shooting them, they keep falling.”
In fact, he was so unstoppable from the field that his matchup, Darryl Morsell, began to get frustrated — exchanging verbal and physical altercations with Love that warranted a technical foul late in the first half.
But that didn’t matter to Love.
He simply let his play do the talking, especially after he hit two more threes following the technical foul that extended the lead even more going into the half.
And following a half where Manek had 13 points to go along with eight rebounds and two blocks, the second part of Thursday night’s two-headed monster decided to do his own version of a takeover.
Manek started the second half catching a lob by sophomore guard RJ Davis, which indicated exactly how the last 20 minutes of the game would go for him. Despite being a known three-point threat, Manek still found his spots on the floor. He went off for 15 points, while shooting 3-5 from three, and was the Tar Heels’ leading scorer in the second half.
“I’m fortunate enough to play with guards that throw me the ball,” Manek said. “Finding me open spots and getting me open looks really gets my confidence going. So yeah, I’m just really glad to be here and play with the guards like I keep playing with.”
Of course, Manek and Love weren’t the only players with a significant impact. The distribution that Davis led also got the North Carolina offense in a rhythm that cracked the game open.
Davis did not score much, but he finished the game with a career-high 12 assists and only one turnover.
“(Marquette does) a great job of getting steals and deflections, and so we just, every day, just talked about taking care of the basketball and making the easy play. And that’s what RJ did consistently throughout the night,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “He just was making the easy play and got us the ball to our players at the right spots where they can make plays on the offensive end.”
In a tough second-round bout against the No. 1 seed Baylor on Saturday, the Tar Heels will need the same — or better — level of play from Love, Manek and the rest of the team if they want a Sweet 16 berth.
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