Following the North Carolina men's basketball team’s narrow 72-66 win over Gardner-Webb on Tuesday, head coach Hubert Davis called out a seeming lack of motivation from his team.
“I really felt like at the beginning of the year that there would be a hunger and a thirst,” he said. “I was excited about it because I felt like it was coming from different directions, different viewpoints.”
One of those new directions was from graduate transfer forward Pete Nance, who finally found his footing wearing Carolina blue on Tuesday.
Nance came out of the gate with a high intensity, scoring 14 of UNC’s first 18 points, and by the time the buzzer sounded at the end of the first half, he had 16 points, four rebounds and three blocks — all season-highs for him in a young campaign.
“I was glad I was able to get some shots to fall,” he said. “I’ve been trying to shoot with confidence and it’s good to see the work pay off and have some shots go in for me.”
However, Nance's teammates didn't have as much success, shooting 4-for-24 in the half. The eight other players who registered minutes in the first half only scored a combined 10 points.
But even Nance found himself with a lack of hunger at times. In the second half, Nance only shot the ball twice, attributing this deficiency to playing within the flow of the game as well as battling foul trouble for most of the night.
“Obviously I picked up some fouls and was off the floor a good majority of the second half,” Nance said. “It wasn’t a conscious decision (to not shoot the ball) and all that mattered to me in the end was that we won.”
Junior guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis picked up his slack after the break, helping the Tar Heels offensively, as well as on the boards.
Love scored 12 points in the first seven minutes of the second half to finish the game with 20 points. Meanwhile, RJ Davis scored nine points and grabbed three rebounds in the final 20 minutes, ending the game with a team-leading 10 rebounds and adding 14 points for his second career double-double.
“It was just me getting in a rhythm,” Love said. “I had made a layup and I made a rhythm three. Everything else was just flowing through the game. I had a smaller guard on me, and I felt like I had the advantage, so I took advantage of him.”
There was an absence of hunger and thirst from the Tar Heels when they needed to pull away, though. Despite going up 14 points just three and a half minutes into the second half, UNC failed to extend the lead, giving Gardner-Webb an opportunity to make a comeback.
North Carolina again went up by 14 points with 7:12 left in the game before Gardner-Webb shut down the UNC offense, going on a 12-3 run over the next four minutes to bring the score to 61-56.
Missed shots from both sides and the time winding down forced the Runnin’ Bulldogs to intentionally foul North Carolina, allowing them to shoot free throws and put the game out of reach.
With tougher non-conference opponents on the horizon, the Tar Heels will have to to start each game playing their best basketball, or else there'll come a time when the buzzer won’t bail them out.
“We’re going to get the best out of every team we play, regardless of whether it’s non-conference or conference play,” Hubert Davis said. “We’ll need to continue to talk about (hunger and thirst) and we’ll continue to practice (having) it.
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