The No. 8 seed North Carolina men’s basketball team smothered No. 9 seed Marquette, 95-63 in the Tar Heels' NCAA tournament opener.
Despite an early basket by junior forward Armando Bacot, the Tar Heels took some time to get going offensively to start the game — having trouble finding baskets in the paint and from deep in the first eight minutes.
Marquette stayed close behind, finding open looks from three early on, but UNC took full control after building a 10-point lead with an 8-0 run halfway through the first half.
Graduate forward Brady Manek kicked off the run after being fouled on a 3-pointer and making all of the free throws.
And from that point, the Tar Heels kept going.
They found a rhythm from three, especially sophomore guard Caleb Love, who hit four triples himself. Manek, sophomore guard R.J. Davis, and sophomore guard Puff Johnson all contributed from deep as well — pushing the lead to as much as 20 with just under six minutes left in the opening half.
Towards the end of the half, things got chippy — especially between Love and his match-up, Golden Eagles guard Darryl Morsell. The two guards got into three altercations within the last five minutes, most notably the Morsell’s technical foul committed while the guards were fighting for a loose ball, Marquette’s third technical foul of the game.
Love responded with two more threes, including the dagger with under a minute to go in the half that put him over 20 points and pushed the lead to 26.
The second half was just as demoralizing, as a quick dunk by Manek put the lead at 30.
The Tar Heels kept up their relentless offensive attack as Manek continued to connect from three and get easy looks in the paint, while Marquette struggled to get into any offensive groove.
With the lead consistently hovering around 30, Marquette went into desperation mode — pressing UNC full court — but this was not enough to stop the bleeding and cut the deficit.
UNC cruised to the easy victory — securing an appearance in the second round against the defending champion Baylor Bears in the No. 1 seed.
Who stood out?
Love played his best game of the season — tying his career-high for threes in the first half and notching his season-high of 23 points. His offensive brilliance was especially key in the first half, where he registered a season-high 21 points in a half.
Manek and Bacot also came up big for UNC. Manek also broke his season-high with 28 points and 11 rebounds, and he also made his defensive presence known with two blocks. His second-half performance was crucial to the Tar Heels keeping the big lead and turning the match into a full-on rout.
Bacot also recorded yet another double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. A first-half rebound from the big man was his 417th of the season, surpassing Brice Johnson's 416 boards in the 2015-16 season for the most rebounds by a Tar Heel in a season.
When was it decided?
This game was decided in the first half as UNC used the three point-line to put Marquette away early. The Tar Heels shot 45.5 percent from three in the first half, and they also dominated in the paint — grabbing 11 offensive rebounds for 21 second chance points compared to their opponent’s 2 points.
The Tar Heels were also assisted by Marquette’s shooting woes and tough interior defense by Manek and Bacot that kept the Golden Eagles to only 25 points in the half.
Why does it matter?
This win moves the Tar Heels along in the tournament, but it also displayed a team that looks focused and prepared for what they want to accomplish this postseason. It’s very promising that UNC is playing its best basketball at the time when it matters most. With a performance like this, the Tar Heels proved that their seeding won't define their play.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will face No. 1 seed Baylor in the second round on Saturday, March 19 in Fort Worth, Texas.
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