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Wednesday December 7th

Caleb Love helps Tar Heels ramp up defensive intensity in second half against College of Charleston

UNC junior guard Caleb Love (2) drives toward the basket during the game against College of Charleston on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, at the Dean Smith Center. UNC beat College of Charleston 102-86.
Buy Photos UNC junior guard Caleb Love (2) drives toward the basket during the game against College of Charleston on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, at the Dean Smith Center. UNC beat College of Charleston 102-86.

Every bucket converted by College of Charleston's Dalton Bolon in Friday's matchup against UNC was followed by a display of antics.

On the first play of the night, the graduate guard muscled his way baseline for a layup and talked his way down the court. Later in the half, he flashed a trio fingers in the air and tucked them into an imaginary holster after canning a pair of 3-pointers.

Every bucket. Every point scored. For Bolon, there was always a show.

But he had good reason. Despite North Carolina eventually pulling away from College of Charleston 102-86 on Friday night, Bolon’s first-half explosion helped the Cougars take a seven-point lead into the break, and with it, raise questions about the Tar Heels' defensive efforts. 

Nearly all of the Division II transfer's points came against one defender — Caleb Love.

“That was unacceptable of me in the first half for (Bolon) to get those bully-ball points,” Love said. “Coach (Davis) told me I was being soft and I had to change it in the second half. I took it personally to do that.”

Out of the break, North Carolina’s streaky guard seemed to take the challenge from his coach well. 

On the first Charleston possession, Bolon posted up Love on the high baseline. But instead of guarding from behind, Love fronted the graduate transfer and snuck around to intercept the ensuing entry pass. With the ball in his hand, Love took the Cougar turnover coast-to-coast and finished a floater over the top of Bolon. 

“(Love) can literally be the best player in the country," graduate wing Leaky Black said. “I feel like with him, it’s all mental — if he wants to (play defense).”

Of course, it wasn’t just the defensive performance by Love that head coach Hubert Davis was critical of coming out of the break.

The second-year head coach made it clear that all of his players were playing ‘soft’ and that he challenged them to step up after being physically dominated by Charleston in the first half. 

Seth Trimble stood as a sign of the turnaround Davis was searching for. The first-year guard drew an offensive foul and repeatedly ball-hawked Cougar guards over 30-feet from the basket. 

“We think of Seth as one of the best defenders on this team,” Black said. “His defensive IQ is crazy.” 

Yet, with the game still tightly contested midway through the second half, Charleston’s offense continued to target Love. Bolon — who only scored four points after the half — posted up the UNC guard and slowly worked his way near the paint. 

Rather than concede his ground, Love snuck around and swiped the ball from Charleston’s leading scorer. The junior guard once again darted down the court before dishing it off to Trimble, whose bucket helped extend the Tar Heels’ lead to 74-68.

Just over three minutes later, Love met graduate guard Ryan Larson at the rim and took the loose ball. After maneuvering through a trio of Cougars to finish an acrobatic layup, the junior flexed his way back down the court.

“We love when Caleb plays with that fire — it gets us all going,” senior forward Armando Bacot said. “When he’s being a dog like that and doing his thing, that’s what it’s all about.”

Love’s spark helped the Tar Heels force 11 turnovers and tally four blocks in the second half. UNC’s increased focus on the defensive end led to immediate offense, capped by Love’s tomahawk dunk in the game's final seconds. 

On a night where things looked to be heading Bolon and the Cougars’ way, Love made sure he got the last word. 

“I just had to get downhill,” he said. “Coach told me I’m best (when going) downhill, and that’s exactly what I did. They couldn’t stop me.”

@evanr0gers

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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