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The Daily Tar Heel

Tar Heels finish out season-opening home stand with 77-52 win over UC Riverside

UNC graduate guard Paxson Wojcik (8) goes up for a dunk during UNC's game against UC Riverside in the Dean Smith Center on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023.

The No. 20 UNC men’s basketball team (3-0, 0-0 ACC) rode a dominant turnover margin and lockdown defense in the second half to a 77-52 win over UC Riverside (1-3, 0-0 Big West) Friday night at the Smith Center.

The Tar Heels turned the ball over nine times to UC Riverside’s 17 and held the Highlanders to just 28-percent shooting in the second half.

“We’ve got to be locked in defensively,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “There are gonna be nights where we’re not shooting the ball well. But what is sustainable and what can happen every night is playing defense, rebounding and taking care of the basketball. The way that they responded defensively, for the entire second half, I thought was really special.”

After junior forward Harrison Ingram scored the first points of the game with a baby hook on the first possession, UNC entered a lull offensively, making just one of its next six shots, and the game was tied 4-4 at the first timeout.

Sophomore forward Jalen Washington injected some energy following the stoppage. He drained a three on one end and then denied a Highlander at the rim on the other. That three-pointer started a 7-0 run for the Tar Heels. 

Transition offense was the catalyst for a 17-0 Tar Heel run in the middle of the first half. Following an emphatic block by Graduate forward Jae’Lyn Withers, sophomore guard Seth Trimble exploded into the open floor and finished with a highlight-reel, two-handed jam to increase the Tar Heel lead to 24-9. 

“I see it everyday,” Ingram said. “I knew right when he caught that ball. I was like, ‘Oh lord, it’s about to be bad.’

Graduate center Armando Bacot scored the next six UNC points with two and-ones that pushed the Tar Heels to the 30-point mark with 8:39 to play in the first half.

Despite trailing by as much as 21, the Highlanders ended the half on a 17-7 run, trimming the UNC lead to 37-26 at the break. Bacot was the only Tar Heel in double figures at the half and led all scorers with 14. Center Ben Griscti scored nine with two threes off the bench for UC Riverside. UNC only turned the ball over once to the Highlanders nine but shot just 18 percent from beyond the arc and trailed 24-17 on the boards. 

UNC scored the first 21 points of the second half, holding the Highlanders scoreless for over nine minutes . Senior guard RJ Davis and Washington rattled home threes that saw the lead balloon to 54-26 at the under 12 timeout. 

“I kept looking back up at the score, and it was like, ‘man, they didn’t add any points to their numbers,’” Withers said. “So I was like, ‘man, we played pretty good.’”

The Highlanders responded with an 8-0 run after taking a timeout with just over eight minutes to play. But that momentum was immediately halted by a put-back jam from first-year forward Zayden High and a Bacot three. Leading 68-38 at the under four media timeout, the Tar Heels had all but secured the victory.

Bacot finished with 21 points, while Washington and Trimble both added 11 off the bench. Withers was a stand out defensively with three blocks.

“This year’s team has new parts,” Hubert Davis said. “Everyday we want to take a step forward in building that team and getting closer to that finished product.”

The Tar Heels travel to the Bahamas next week where they will play Northern Iowa in the first round of the Battle for Atlantis on Nov. 22 at 12 p.m. 

@dthsports |

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