The No. 1 North Carolina men’s basketball team (5-0) defeated Portland (4-3), 89-81, in UNC's first matchup of the Phil Knight Invitational.
Spearheaded by junior point guard Caleb Love, the Tar Heels’ offense was firing on all cylinders at the beginning of the first half, as UNC shot 64.3 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the three-point line through the first ten minutes of the game.
The Tar Heels’ hot start earned them an 18-11 lead on the Pilots, but Portland scored six unanswered points off two UNC turnovers and a missed three-pointer by senior center Armando Bacot to tie the score at 18.
The two teams traded blows until the Pilots scored a transition layup off a missed mid-range jumper from graduate forward Pete Nance, putting the Tar Heels behind 23-22. After falling behind, UNC quickly regained its lead and maintained it until the halftime break thanks to Love continuing to score efficiently and timely three-pointers from Nance and sophomore guard D’Marco Dunn.
But the Pilots kept themselves within striking distance of the lead thanks to forcing several turnovers and strong shooting from beyond the arc. Dunn’s first score of the game put the Tar Heels ahead 40-38 before halftime.
Both teams started the second scoring the ball effectively, as each team scored at least eight points within the first four minutes of the half. UNC was the first team to fall behind, however, as they allowed the Pilots to score five unanswered points to put them behind 53-48.
After losing the lead when Portland broke the 48-48 tie, the Tar Heels didn’t reclaim an advantage over the Pilots for over six minutes until Love drove to the basket, collapsed the defense and passed back out to Nance at the top of the key for a wide-open three-pointer that put UNC ahead 66-64.
The game remained tightly contested after the Tar Heels reclaimed the lead, as the lead changed twice and neither team held more than a five-point advantage until junior guard RJ Davis made two free throws to give UNC a seven-point lead.
The Tar Heels, however, allowed Portland to hang in the game, and the Pilots drew to within three points of their lead with just 50 seconds remaining, prompting a UNC timeout. Davis connected on a mid-range jumper to make it a two-possession game with just 30 seconds left, effectively sealing the win for the Tar Heels. UNC closed out the game by making free throws and sealed the 89-81 win over Portland.
Who stood out?
Love led the way for the Tar Heels in the first half, scoring 16 points on 7-9 shooting from and 100 percent shooting the three-point line. Love also contributed three steals, three assists and two rebounds in the first half.
In the second half, Love continued to have the hot hand, adding seven points to his first-half contributions. Love also finished with four assists, three rebounds and three steals.
Nance also had a strong outing in the Tar Heels’ winning effort, matching his career high with 28 points. He recorded seven rebounds while providing spacing for UNC guards to work in the paint with his accurate three-point shooting.
When was it decided?
The Tar Heels’ matchup with the Pilots was a wire-to-wire matchup that was anybody’s game to win with 50 seconds left to play after Portland scored a three-pointer to draw within three points of UNC’s lead. But Davis’ clutch mid-range jumper with just 30 seconds left in the game essentially sealed the win for UNC.
Why does it matter?
Aside from maintaining their undefeated record and bolstering their case to remain the nation’s top-ranked team, the Tar Heels’ victory against Portland is significant because it shows that UNC can win games in several ways.
The Pilots made it clear that they wanted to neutralize Bacot’s impact in the paint, sending double teams his way almost every time he got the ball in the low post. Normally, Bacot’s offensive production in the paint is a critical component of the Tar Heels’ chances of winning, but regardless of Bacot only contributing two field goals through the first 35 minutes of the game and just four the entire game, UNC found a way to win.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels’ next matchup is Friday, November 25th, at either 3 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. against the winner of the Iowa State-Villanova matchup.
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