The No. 1 North Carolina men’s basketball team (4-0) defeated James Madison (4-1), 80-64, in the Dean E. Smith Center on Sunday afternoon.
The Tar Heels jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead after fifth-year forward Leaky Black found graduate forward Pete Nance inside for an open layup, followed by a free throw and a layup from senior forward Armando Bacot.
The Dukes got on the board with a three-pointer from guard Takal Molson over junior guard Caleb Love. On the next possession, junior guard RJ Davis swung it to a wide open Love at the top of the key, who answered with a triple of his own over Molson.
UNC continued to stifle James Madison on the inside, leading to Davis being fouled on a fastbreak. After he hit both free throws, the Tar Heels forced another tough shot, and Davis took it coast to coast, muscling his way inside for a contested layup.
Junior wing Puff Johnson checked into the game for the first time this season, eliciting a spirited applause from fans. The Dukes continued to only find success from the outside, with all 12 of their early points coming from downtown. After Molson hit another three, Black responded with a corner triple.
First-year guard Seth Trimble checked into the game at the under 12 and muscled his way inside for a left-handed layup. On the next play, Davis zinged the ball to Trimble in the corner, who hit his first career collegiate three-pointer to extend the lead to 24-12.
The teams continued to trade downtown shots, with James Madison forward Julien Wooden connecting from downtown, followed by Nance hitting a corner three off an assist from Love. Davis hit another three to extend the lead to 33-17.
Highlights to close out the half included Bacot showing off some handle, spinning his way to a right-hand layup after starting from the top of the key. Additionally, sophomore guard D’Marco Dunn hit a three from the right wing, followed by Davis scoring a three in isolation with a crossover pull-up three from the right wing. The Tar Heels led 45-26 at halftime.
The Dukes came out in the second half firing on all cylinders with a 14-4 run, trimming the deficit to single digits at 40-49. Timely shots from Nance, Bacot and Black helped UNC maintain a nine-point lead, but James Madison continued to scrap for second chance points.
As the game got more physical towards the end, with both teams registering several fouls, the Tar Heels began to gradually pull away at the free throw line. The exclamation point of the game was when Johnson hit a three from the left wing. A few plays later, Johnson scored an and-one layup on a fast break.
Who stood out?
Bacot posted an impressive double-double, scoring 19 points and grabbing 23 rebounds on 5-11 shooting. He also shot significantly better from the charity stripe, going 9-12 on free throws. Additionally, Davis led the backcourt with 21 points and five assists.
Molson shined for James Madison, scoring 19 points, including shooting 3-6 from downtown.
When was it decided?
Though the Tar Heels held a commanding 19-point lead at halftime, they appeared to look complacent during the second half — settling for difficult shots, moving the ball less and reducing defensive intensity.
The Dukes managed to cut the lead to single digits with under eight minutes to go. It was only until the final seven minutes of the game where the Tar Heels seemed to dial back in, with Bacot and Davis leading the way on offense.
Why does it matter?
It’s been a rather lackluster start to the Tar Heels’ season, with first-half defensive woes plaguing UNC in non-conference play. During the first half, North Carolina’s performances on both ends of the floor showcased a more accurate representation of what this group is capable of.
Bacot notched a double-double in the first half. Davis made timely passes and scored in isolation, true to his floor general role. On offense, the Tar Heels made open shots and didn’t force contested ones, and on defense, they stymied the Dukes into uncomfortable shots.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will travel to Oregon this Thursday for the Phil Knight Invitational, where they will face Portland and either Iowa State or Villanova. Tip-off against Portland is at 1 p.m.
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