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No. 1 UNC men's basketball uses second-half push to squeak by College of Charleston, 102-86

UNC junior guard Caleb Love (2) drives toward the basket during UNC's match against College of Charleston on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022 at the Dean Smith Center.

In a tightly contested game, the No. 1 North Carolina men's basketball team (2-0) eventually pulled away from the College of Charleston (1-1) to pull off a 102-86 win on Friday night in the Dean E. Smith Center. 

What happened?

The Cougars knocked down the first shot of the night, but North Carolina’s offense went to work shortly after. Graduate transfer forward Pete Nance worked his way toward the block before kicking it out to graduate wing Leaky Black for a corner three. 

North Carolina would open up a five-point lead moments after the first media timeout, but Charleston responded quickly. The long ball ignited a quick 8-0 run for the Cougars which was capped off by Ben Burnham’s 3-pointer to give the visitors a 14-11 lead. 

At the 9:42 mark, with Tar Heels still struggling to find their groove from beyond the arc, Charleston continued to pour it on. Dalton Bolon used a quick jab to open up space to connect from distance to extend the Cougars’ lead to six points. 

In need of a spark, UNC turned to the play of two of its returning core pieces. Junior guard RJ Davis knocked down the second three of the night for the Tar Heels, swishing a stepback jumper from the corner. Shortly after, Black nailed his second triple, inching the Tar Heels within one.

But just as North Carolina appeared to be finding a rhythm on offense, Ante Brzovic displayed his multi-level scoring ability. The sophomore forward made a 15-footer and jumper from behind the line in the final 90 seconds of the first half to give Charleston a 50-43 lead at the break. 

Out of the half, UNC came out with new found life on the defensive end. Junior guard Caleb Love stole a Cougar entry pass coast-to-coast and finish with a layup. Moments later, Love came off a down screen to bury a left-wing three to tie the game. 

At the 10:50 mark, Nance’s bullet pass from the wing fought Bacot for a two-handed dunk, opening up a four-point lead for North Carolina. Bacot continued to find success down low, bullying his way to an and-one lay about one minute later.

Out of the under eight-minute media timeout, Love’s impact on both ends of the floor continued. The St. Louis native met Charleston guard Ryan Larson at the rim for a block, and quickly turned the rejection into a fastbreak deuce. North Carolina kept the Cougars at a sizable distance for the rest of the contest, and the Tar Heels prevailed, 102-86.

Who stood out? 

After being held to just one point in the first half, Bacot exploded in the latter period. The preseason All-American registered 27 points and 5 rebounds in the second half to lead the Tar Heels to victory.

Love also flashed his second-half heroics many have become accustomed to seeing. The junior guard tallied 17 second-half points and contributed a pair of steals.

For the Cougars, Brzovic put on a clinic in the first half. The sophomore from Croatia scored from all three levels, showing polished footwork on multiple post-move buckets, knocking down a 15-footer from the baseline and burying a pair for 3-pointers. 

When was it decided?

North Carolina struggled on the defensive end in the first half, allowing Charleston to score 50 points in the initial period. But out of the prolonged stoppage, the Tar Heels’ increased intensity on the defensive end helped lead to numerous transition baskets and tilt the contest's trajectory in their favor.

Why does it matter?

Expectations were high entering this season for the preseason No. 1 team in the country. But up to the point, it's clear that UNC has a long way to go to find itself in Houston next April.

Against the Cougars, North Carolina’s rebounding woes continued, as Charleston out-rebounded the Tar Heels, 35-32. UNC gave up 15 offensive rebounds and 15 second-chance points to the Cougars — highlighting a major area of improvement for North Carolina.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels host Gardner-Webb on Tuesday. The midweek contest is set to tipoff at 8 pm.

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