Lucas: Portland Rapid Reactions – University of North Carolina Athletics

By Adam Lucas

1. Carolina avoided a Thanksgiving disaster by outlasting Portland, 89-81. The Pilots used a versatile offense and assisted on 22 of 28 field goals to make the game much closer than expected. Credit to RJ Daviswho didn’t have a good day overall, but led the Heels with five assists, to drill a clutch jumper with 24 seconds left to provide breathing space and then drill a pair of free throws with 18.4 seconds left.

2. Pete Nance has shown a tendency to be streaked from the perimeter early in his Carolina career. He was consistently good Thursday, hitting five of his eight three-pointers, more at key moments in the second half. He had 20 key points in the second half when the Tar Heels desperately needed them.

3. The offense was largely a Nance and Caleb love production. The Tar Heel duo combined for 51 of Carolina’s points. They were helped in the final 20 minutes by nine second-half rebounds Armando Bacot, with six of those coming on the offensive glass. Those boards were part of the Tar Heels’ first dominant effort on the glass this season, as they held a 37-22 advantage.

4. Thursday’s match had a very strange flow. Carolina raced out to an 18-8 lead, but saw that bulge melt away, then Hubert Davis started using his bench. And while that’s true, the reserves weren’t productive in the first 20 minutes (a D’Marco Dunn three were the UNC bench’s only points in that span as they trailed Portland 13-3 in that category), two other things are also true: the Tar Heels need to find reliable backups and they play five games on the road over an 11 days. The final score was 25-3 in favor of the pilots. D’Marco Dunn, Puff Johnson and Tyler Nickell were the only reserves to play in the second half, collecting five minutes between them.

5. Love’s 23 points pushed him past the 1,000-point mark, giving him 1,020 for his career. That makes him the 80th Tar Heel to surpass 1,000, the leading scorers in college basketball. Louisville has the second-most 1,000-point club members with 69. Love easily broke past the mark in the first half, with his 16 points largely the reason the Tar Heels held a 40-38 advantage at halftime. The junior either scored or assisted on 10 of Carolina’s 16 first-half field goals, and a very engaged Love also had all three of Carolina’s first-half steals.

6. Tyler Robertson had been one of the most important parts of Portland’s offense early in the season, leading the team in scoring with 17.5 points per game. match. Leaky black pulled the defensive assignment on him on Thanksgiving and was very effective in the first half, limiting Robertson to just one field goal attempt. The shooter was marginally better in the second half, hitting four of his 11 shots. Most importantly, Carolina kept him from the free throw line, where he attempted 24 in a game against Portland State earlier this season.

7. Carolina has been a good free throw shooting team for the last season plus, but the charity stripe was an issue on Thursday. The Tar Heels missed five straight free throws in a key stretch late in the second half that helped keep the Pilots close. Armando Bacot finally broke the streak by sinking the second of two attempts coming out of a timeout. Carolina finished a paltry 13-22 from the line (59.1%).

8. Bacot’s 11-point, 13-rebound double-double tied Antawn Jamison with 51 in his Carolina career, the second most ever by a Tar Heel. Billy Cunningham leads in that category with 60.

9. The local tip time at 10 a.m. necessitated a few tweaks to the usual Tar Heel basketball pregame routine. The program typically has a pregame meal four hours before tips, but a breakfast at 6:00 did not seem very appealing to university students, so it was adjusted to 7. Remember that Carolina’s game against Baylor last year in the NCAA Tournament started at 11 a.m. , so the heels have some recent history with earlier starts. However, this was the earliest start anyone in program history could remember.

10. As you’d expect, there was plenty of Nike-related festivities surrounding the event. All the teams participated in a function Wednesday night on the Nike campus that included a behind-the-scenes campus tour, commentary from some key basketball figures, including Roy Williams.

11. Williams was of course also present at the Moda Center on Thursday. It led to a steady procession of photo-seekers in the half hour before the match. The life of a semi-public figure is never normal; imagine posing for dozens of selfies with strangers before 10 on Thanksgiving.

12. Carolina now awaits the winner of Villanova-Iowa State to find out who they will play tomorrow at 2:30 PM local time (5:30 PM Eastern). Either way, the last meeting will not have been pleasant. Carolina’s last meeting with Iowa State was a last-second 85-83 loss in the NCAA Tournament in 2013. The last matchup with Villanova was in the 2016 NCAA Championship Game, and we won’t talk about that.

13. The Eastern start time at 5:30 p.m. makes for a busy day for Carolina athletics. Tar Heel football, of course, hosts NC State at 3:30 PM Eastern, a game that will be carried on all the usual Tar Heel Sports Network outlets. The THSN broadcast of the basketball game will be available via the Varsity app, the GoHeels website and app and on 102.5 FM locally.

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