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Despite back-to-back losses, UNC men's basketball leaves Phil Knight Invitational with their heads up

UNC junior guard Caleb Love (2) guards the ball during the men's basketball game against UNCW ain the Dean Smith Center on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022.

After a four-overtime loss to No. 18 Alabama, the North Carolina men's basketball team slunk back to the locker room physically and emotionally exhausted. When head coach Hubert Davis walked in, he told his players to pick their heads up.

The Tar Heels seemed to leave it all on the court in Sunday's grueling matchup. However, a career-high 34 points from Caleb Love, an impressive defensive performance from Pete Nance and big-time plays from several role players still weren't enough to outlast the Crimson Tide in the 103-101 loss.

UNC left the Phil Knight Invitational with two losses against teams that, on paper, the top-ranked Tar Heels should have beaten. However, Davis refused to call the Thanksgiving weekend in Portland a disappointment.

"I was disappointed in a couple of outcomes, but I leave very encouraged," Davis said.

On Friday, UNC let an eight-point lead against Iowa State slip away in the game's final minutes. Against Alabama, the Tar Heels battled in a back-and-forth affair in which neither team ever seemed to hold an edge.

Both teams had ample opportunities to end the game in the final seconds of regulation and each of the overtime periods. Every time, the potential game-winners didn't fall.

Love missed two 3-point attempts at the end of the second half and first overtime. Alabama's Jahvon Quinerly also missed several shots that could have potentially sealed the game.

"A lot of late clock execution – you know, good or bad – really comes down (to) 'Does the ball go in or not?'" Davis said. "We had a number of looks in those situations – midrange, jump shot, three – that normally we make, and we just didn't make it."

Ultimately, the outcome came down to a hectic final 30 seconds. After Alabama center Charles Bediako scored down low to put his team up 102-101, he blocked a floater attempt from Love on the other end.

Bediako's block was originally waved off and called for goaltending, which would have given UNC the lead with nine seconds remaining. Instead, the referees reversed the call and ruled it an inadvertent whistle, awarding the ball to Alabama who had the possession arrow.

Then, Alabama's Jaden Bradley turned the ball over on the inbounds play, caused by UNC first-year guard Seth Trimble deflecting the ball off the hands of a Crimson Tide player. The Tar Heels still couldn't capitalize on the opportunity, as Nance turned the ball over on the ensuing inbound attempt and UNC was forced to foul.

Bradley made one of two free throws with four seconds remaining in quadruple overtime, and Alabama walked away with the victory. After the nearly three-and-a-half hour game, the UNC players were left wondering what they could have done to come out on top.

"We're one play away, and it's not even necessarily about scoring," Nance said. "Getting one stop, one rebound, getting a steal, you know, we're that close to beating a really good Alabama team."

There were plenty of positives to take away from the game, particularly when it came to role players stepping up in big moments.

UNC junior wing Puff Johnson again flexed his high motor, registering several crucial put-back buckets while also adding three steals. Redshirt first-year center Will Shaver nailed two free throws at the end of the first half, his first points as a Tar Heel, to cut Alabama's lead to three points going into the break.

"At any given time, your name could get called — Coach says that all the time, and you just got to be ready," Love said. "And those guys are ready for sure."

Priority number one for the Tar Heels is bouncing back, and they will have a chance to do that against No. 11 Indiana in Bloomington on Wednesday.

"It's a long season," Davis said. "I feel like we're taking taking steps forward to be the best that this year's team can be."


@dthsports |

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Lucas Thomae

Lucas Thomae is the 2023-24 sports managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as an assistant sports editor and summer editor. Lucas is a senior pursuing a major in journalism and media with a minor in data science.