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No. 1 UNC men's basketball showcases depth in exhibition win over Johnson C. Smith


UNC junior guard Caleb Love (2) dribbles the ball during the basketball game against JCSU on Friday, Oct. 8, 2022.

When any of the starters on the North Carolina men’s basketball team were benched last season, it was due to injury or foul trouble. 

 This year, though, it looks like players will be able to sit down for a rest on their own terms when needed.

Friday’s exhibition game against Johnson C. Smith revealed a newfound weapon for the Tar Heels: depth.

The team had nine players with double-digit minutes of playing time in UNC’s sound 101-40 victory over the Golden Bulls. 

“It is something to get used to because I'm so used to playing so many minutes,” senior forward Armando Bacot said. “When I'm coming out I’m like, ‘Hey, I want to stay in,’ but all those guys have earned their minutes.”

First-year guard Seth Trimble logged 23 minutes – the same amount as Bacot and junior guard Caleb Love –  and he wasn’t shy on offense. He put up 11 points, shooting over 80 percent, and tallied five assists. 

Head coach Hubert Davis praised Trimble’s ability to get to the basket any time he wants, and added that he’s an “unbelievable on-ball defender.”

“Seth’s athleticism is real,” Davis said. “His ability to push the ball and be able to be faster than people without the ball while he has the ball, and attack the basket with athleticism and power and strength — it's nice to have on the team.”

First-year wing Tyler Nickel also had a strong debut Friday, putting up nine points, including two 3-pointers, and snagging a steal.

Bacot described Nickel as relentless, which he said is a rare trait in first-years.

“For a lot of freshmen, sometimes the moment can be too big for them and they’re kind of timid,” Bacot said. “But he's one of those guys where he can be on the floor with anybody and he thinks he belongs out there, and I think that’s a great trait to have.”

Graduate transfer Pete Nance also saw his first action in Chapel Hill on Friday. He had 27 minutes of playing time – the most of anyone on the team – and he made good use of them. Nance racked up 19 points, six rebounds and a steal.

Despite Nance’s status as a newcomer, he’s already begun to take on a role as a leader. His commands and screen calls could be heard all the way up in the second level of the Dean E. Smith Center.

“I try to really be a good communicator,” Nance said. “I learned that from my dad at a young age — what can I do without the ball and how can I control the game without scoring? I think being loud and clear offensively and communicating is something that helps everybody.”

Returning junior guards Puff Johnson and RJ Davis didn’t make the lineup Friday due to minor injuries, but Hubert Davis said they, along with senior Justin McKoy, should be ready to suit up for the season opener against UNCW on Nov. 7. First-year forward Jalen Washington was also out, but Davis said there is a chance he will also be ready to play.

Sophomore guard D’Marco Dunn had significant playing time and a starting slot against the Golden Bulls — which Davis said he earned by stacking good plays and good practices.

“He's so gifted and things come so easy for him, at times, he'll play in gear three," Davis said. "I want him to put it in gear five and I want him to keep him there.”

The big showing from the reserves didn’t detract from the returners’ performances, as Love led the team with 20 points and eight assists. Bacot registered a double-double with 12 points and 20 rebounds.

After falling in the national championship in April, the returners feel like they’ve got something to prove. If Friday’s game is any indication, it’s looking like the Tar Heels have the resources to prove it. 

The depth UNC displayed in the exhibition is promising. Last year, foul trouble meant real trouble, but now, the team can take chances on both ends of the court. 

For the Tar Heels, the bench is hardly a bench anymore, but rather a launching pad for whatever game Davis wants to play. 

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